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ART AS 
EXPERIENCE 


BY JOHN 
DEWEY 


A WTOEVIEW/PERIGEE BOOK 




Copyright © 1934, by John Dewey. All rights reserved. 


SBN 399-50025-1 


Perigee Books 
are published by 
G. P. Putnam's Sons 
200 Madison Avenue 
New York, New York 10016 


First Perigee Printing, 1980 


23rd Impression 


library of Congress Catalog 
Card Number: 58-59756 


MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



TO ALBERT C. BARNES 
IN GRATITUDE 



PREFACE 


IN THE winter and spring of 1931 ,1 was invited to give a series 
of ten lectures at Harvard University. The subject chosen was 
the Philosophy of Art; the lectures are the origin of the present 
volume. The Lectureship was founded in memory of William 
James and I esteem it a great honor to have this book associated 
even indirectly with his distinguished name. It is a pleasure, also, 
te recall, in connection with the lectures, the unvarying kindness 
and hospitality of my colleagues in the department of philosophy 
at Harvard. 

I am somewhat embarrassed in an effort to acknowledge 
indebtedness to other writers on the subject. Some aspects of it 
may be inferred from authors mentioned or quoted in the text. 
I have read on the subject for many years, however, more or 
less widely in English literature, somewhat less in French and 
still less in German, and I have absorbed much from sources 
which I cannot now directly recall. Moreover, my obligations to 
a number of writers are much greater than might be gathered 
from allusions to them in the volume itself. 

My indebtedness to those who have helped me directly 
can be more easily stated. Dr. Joseph Ratner gave me a number 
of valuable references. Dr. Meyer Schapiro was good enough to 
read the twelfth and thirteenth chapters and to make suggestions 
which I have freely adopted. Irwin Edman read a large part of 
the book in manuscript and I owe much to his suggestions and 
criticism. Sidney Hook read many of the chapters, and their 
present form is largely the result of discussions with him; this 

vii 



statement Is especially true of the chapters on criticism and the 
last chapter. My greatest indebtedness is to Dr. A. C. Barnes. 
The chapters have been gone over one by one with him, and yet 
what I owe to his comments and suggestions on this account is 
but a small measure of my debt. I have had the benefit of con¬ 
versations with him through a period of years, many of which 
occurred in the presence of the unrivaled collection of pictures 
he has assembled. The influence of these conversations, together 
with that of his books, has been a chief factor in shaping my own 
thinking about the philosophy of esthetics. Whatever is sound in 
this volume is due more than I can say to the great educational 
work carried on in the Barnes Foundation. That work is of a 
pioneer quality comparable to the best that has been done in 
any field during the present generation, that of science not ex¬ 
cepted. I should be glad to think of this volume as one phase of 
the widespread influence the Foundation is exercising. 

I am indebted to the Barnes Foundation for permission to 
reproduce a number of illustrations and to Barbara and Willard 
Morgan for the photographs from which the reproductions were 
made. 



CONTENTS 


PREFACE vii 

I. THE LIVE CREATURE 3 

n. THE LIVE CREATURE AND “ETHERIAL THINGS” »o 

III. HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 35 

IV. THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 58 

V. THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 8i 

VI. SUBSTANCE AND FORM 106 

Vn. THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 134 

VIII. THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 161 

IX. THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 187 

X. THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 114 

XI. THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION *45 

XII. THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 171 

XIII. CRITICISM AND PERCEPTION 198 

XIV. ART AND CIVILIZATION 3*8 

35* 


INDEX 





CHAPTER I 


THE LIVE CREATURE 


B Y ONE of the ironic perversities that often attend the course 
of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which forma¬ 
tion of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to 
theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that 
exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work 
of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or 
statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the 
actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, 
the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very 
perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess 
because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates 
conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art 
product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated 
from the human conditions under which it was brought into being 
and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life- 
experience. 

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions 
of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them 
that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which 
esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where 
it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of 
every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. 
A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write 
upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore con¬ 
tinuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience 
that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and suffer¬ 
ings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. 
Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just 
rest upon tire earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest oper¬ 
ations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the 
theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact 



4 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


evident in its various implications., The theorist who would deal 
philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish. 

If one is willing to grant this position, even if only by way 
of temporary experiment, he will see that there follows a conclu¬ 
sion at first sight surprising. In order to understand the meaning 
of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn 
aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and 
conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic. 
We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour. For 
theory is concerned with understanding, insight, not without ex¬ 
clamations of admiration, and stimulation of that emotional out¬ 
burst often called appreciation. It is quite possible to enjoy flowers 
In their colored form and delicate fragrance without knowing any¬ 
thing about plants theoretically. But if one sets out to understand 
the flowering of plants, he is committed to finding out something 
about the interactions of soil, air, water and sunlight that con¬ 
dition the growth of plants. 

By common consent, the Parthenon is a great work of 
art. Yet it has esthetic standing only as the work becomes an 
experience for a human being. And, if one is to go beyond per¬ 
sonal enjoyment into the formation of a theory about that large 
republic of art of which the building is one member, one has to 
be willing at some point in his reflections to turn from it to the 
bustling, arguing, acutely sensitive Athenian citizens, with civic 
sense identified with a civic religion, of whose experience the 
temple was an expression, and who built it not as a work of art 
but as a civic commemoration. The turning to them is as human 
beings who had needs that were a demand for the building and 
that were carried to fulfillment in it; it is not an examination 
such as might be carried on by a sociologist in search for material 
relevant to his purpose. The one who sets out to theorize about 
the esthetic experience embodied in the Parthenon must realize 
in thought what the people into whose lives it entered had in 
common, as creators and as those who were satisfied with it, with 
people in our own homes and on our own streets. 

In order to understand the esthetic in its ultimate and 
approved forms, one must begin with it in the raw; in the events 
and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man, arous¬ 
ing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


5 


listens: the sights that hold the crowd—the fire-engine rushing 
by; the machines excavating enormous holes in the earth; the 
human-fly climbing the steeple-side; the men perched high in air 
on girders, throwing and catching red-hot bolts. The sources of 
art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how 
the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd; 
who notes the delight of the housewife in tending her plants, and 
the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green 
in front of the house; the zest of the spectator in poking the wood 
burning on the hearth and in watching the darting flames and 
crumbling coals. These people, if questioned as to the reason for 
their actions, would doubtless return reasonable answers. The 
man who poked the sticks of burning wood would say he did it 
to make the fire burn better; but he is none the less fascinated by 
the colorful drama of change enacted before his eyes and imagina¬ 
tively partakes in it. He does not remain a cold spectator. What 
Coleridge said of the reader of poetry is true in its way of all who 
are happily absorbed in their activities of mind and body: “The 
reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by the 
mechanical impulse of curiosity, not by a restless desire to arrive 
at the final solution, but by the pleasurable activity of the journey 
itself.” 

The intelligent mechanic engaged in his job, interested in 
doing well and finding satisfaction in his handiwork, caring for 
his materials and tools with genuine affection, is artistically en¬ 
gaged. The difference between such a worker and the inept and 
careless bungler is as great in the shop as it is in the studio. Often¬ 
times the product may not appeal to the esthetic sense of those 
who use the product. The fault, however, is oftentimes not so 
much with the worker as with the conditions of the market for 
which his product is designed. Were conditions and opportunities 
different, things as significant to the eye as those produced by 
earlier craftsmen would be made. 

So extensive and subtly pervasive are the ideas that set 
Art upon a remote pedestal, that many a person would be repelled 
rather than pleased if told that he enjoyed his casual recreations, 
in part at least, because of their esthetic quality. The arts which 
today have most vitality for the average person are things he 
does not take to be arts: for instance, the movie, jazzed music, 



6 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the comic strip, and, too frequently, newspaper accounts of love- 
nests, murders, and exploits of bandits. For, when what he knows 
as art is relegated to the museum and gallery, the unconquerable 
impulse towards experiences enjoyable in themselves finds such 
outlet as the daily environment provides. Many a person who 
protests against the museum conception of art, still shares the 
fallacy from which that conception springs. For the popular 
notion comes from a separation of art from the objects and scenes 
of ordinary experience that many theorists and critics pride 
themselves upon holding and even elaborating. The times when 
select and distinguished objects are closely connected with the 
products of usual vocations are the times when appreciation of 
the former is most rife and most keen. When, because of their 
remoteness, the objects acknowledged by the cultivated to be 
works of fine art seem anemic to the mass of people, esthetic 
hunger is likely to seek the cheap and the vulgar. 

The factors that have glorified fine art by setting it upon 
a far-off pedestal did not arise within the realm of art sor is 
their influence confined to the arts. For many persons an aura 
of mingled awe and unreality encompasses the “spiritual” and 
the “ideal” while “matter” has become by contrast a term of 
depreciation, something to be explained away or apologized for. 
The forces at work are those that have removed religion as well 
as fine art from the scope of the common or community life. The 
forces have historically produced so many of the dislocations and 
divisions of modern life and thought that art could not escape 
their influence. We do not have to travel to the ends of the earth 
nor return many millennia in time to find peoples for whom every¬ 
thing that intensifies the sense of immediate living is an object 
of intense admiration. Bodily scarification, waving feathers, gaudy 
robes, shining ornaments of gold and silver, of emerald and jade, 
formed the contents of esthetic arts, and, presumably, without the 
vulgarity of class exhibitionism that attends their analogues today. 
Domestic utensils, furnishings of tent and house, rugs, mats, jars, 
pots, bows, spears, were wrought with such delighted care that 
today we hunt them out and give them places of honor in our 
art museums. Yet in their own time and place, such things were 
enhancements of the processes of everyday life. Instead of being 
elevated to a niche apart, they belonged to display of prowess, the 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


7 


manifestation of group and clan membership, worship of gods, 
feasting and fasting, fighting, hunting, and all the rhythmic 
crises that punctuate the stream of living. 

Dancing and pantomime, the sources of the art of the 
theater, flourished as part of religious rites and celebrations. 
Musical art abounded in the fingering of the stretched string, the 
beating of the taut skin, the blowing with reeds. Even in the caves, 
human habitations were adorned with colored pictures that kept 
alive to the senses experiences with the animals that were so 
closely bound with the lives of humans. Structures that housed 
their gods and the instrumentalities that facilitated commerce 
with the higher powers were wrought with especial fineness. But 
the arts of the drama, music, painting, and architecture thus 
exemplified had no peculiar connection with theaters, galleries, 
museums. They were part of the significant life of an organized 
community. 

The collective life that was manifested in war, worship, 
the forum, knew no division between what was characteristic of 
these places and operations, and the arts that brought color, 
grace, and dignity, into them. Painting and sculpture were organi¬ 
cally one with architecture, as that was one with the social purpose 
that buildings served. Music and song were intimate parts of 
the rites and ceremonies in which the meaning of group life was 
consummated. Drama was a vital reenactment of the legends and 
history of group life. Not even in Athens can such arts be tom 
loose from this setting in direct experience and yet retain their 
significant character. Athletic sports, as well as drama, celebrated 
and enforced traditions of race and group, instructing the people, 
commemorating glories, and strengthening their civic pride. 

Under such conditions, it is not surprising that the 
Athenian Greeks, when they came to reflect upon art, formed 
the idea that it is an act of reproduction, or imitation. There are 
many objections to this conception. But the vogue of the theory 
is testimony to the close connection of the fine arts with daily 
life; the idea would not have occurred to any one had art been 
remote from the interests of life. For the doctrine did not signify 
that art was a literal copying of objects, but that it reflected the 
emotions and ideas that are associated with the chief institutions 
of social life. Plato felt this connection so strongly that it led him 



8 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


to his idea of the necessity of censorship of poets, dramatists, and 
musicians. Perhaps he exaggerated when he said that a change 
from the Doric to the Lydian mode in music would be the sure 
precursor of civic degeneration. But no contemporary would have 
doubted that music was an integral part of the ethos and the 
institutions of the community. The idea of “art for art’s sake” 
would not have been even understood. 

There must then be historic reasons for the rise of the 
compartmental conception of fine art. Our present museums and 
galleries to which works of fine art are removed and stored illus¬ 
trate some of the causes that have operated to segregate art 
instead of finding it an attendant of temple, forum, and other 
forms of associated life. An instructive history of modern art 
could be written in terms of the formation of the distinctively 
modern institutions of museum and exhibition gallery. I may 
point to a few outstanding facts. Most European museums are, 
among other things, memorials of the rise of nationalism and 
imperialism. Every capital must have its own museum of paint¬ 
ing, sculpture, etc., devoted in part to exhibiting the greatness of 
its artistic past, and, in other part, to exhibiting the loot gathered 
by its monarchs in conquest of other nations; for instance, the ac¬ 
cumulations of the spoils of Napoleon that are in the Louvre. They 
testify to the connection between the modern segregation of art 
and nationalism and militarism. Doubtless this connection has 
served at times a useful purpose, as in the case of Japan, who, 
when she was in the process of westernization, saved much of her 
art treasures by nationalizing the temples that contained them. 

The growth of capitalism has been a powerful influence in 
the development of the museum as the proper home for works of 
art, and in the promotion of the idea that they are apart from the 
common life. The nouveau :e riches, who are an important by¬ 
product of the capitalist system, have felt especially bound to 
surround themselves with works of fine art which, being rare, are 
also costly. Generally speaking, the typical collector is the typical 
capitalist. For evidence of good standing in the realm of higher 
culture, he amasses paintings, statuary, and artistic bijoux , as his 
stocks and bonds certify to his standing in the economic world. 

Not merely individuals, but communities and nations, put 
their cultural good taste in evidence by building opera houses, 



THE LlYE CREATURE 


9 


galleries, and museums. These show that a community is not 
wholly absorbed in material wealth, because it is willing to spend 
its gains in patronage of art. It erects these buildings and col¬ 
lects their contents as it now builds a cathedral. These things re¬ 
flect and establish superior cultural status, while their segregation 
from the common life reflects the fact that they are not part of a 
native and spontaneous culture. They are a kind of counterpart 
of a holier-than-thou attitude, exhibited not toward persons as 
such but toward the interests and occupations that absorb most 
of the community’s time and energy. 

Modern industry and commerce have an international 
scope. The contents of galleries and museums testify to the growth 
of economic cosmopolitanism. The mobility of trade and of popu¬ 
lations, due to the economic system, has weakened or destroyed 
the connection between works of art and the genius loci of which 
they were once the natural expression. As works of art have lost 
their indigenous status, they have acquired a new one—that of 
being specimens of fine art and nothing else. Moreover, works of 
art are now produced, like other articles, for sale in the market. 
Economic patronage by wealthy and powerful individuals has at 
many times played a part in the encouragement of artistic pro¬ 
duction. Probably many a savage tribe had its Maecenas. But 
now even that much of intimate social connection is lost in the 
impersonality of a world market. Objects that were in the past 
valid and significant because of their place in the life of a com¬ 
munity now function in isolation from the conditions of their 
origin. By that fact they are also set apart from common experi¬ 
ence, and serve as insignia of taste and certificates of special 
culture. 

Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has 
been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest 
Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work me¬ 
chanically for mass production. He is less integrated than for¬ 
merly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic 
“individualism” results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to 
betake themselves to their work as an isolated means of “self- 
expression.” In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, 
they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the 
point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a 



10 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric. 

Put the action of all such forces together, and the condi¬ 
tions that create the gulf which exists generally between producer 
and consumer in modern society operate tor create also a chasm 
between ordinary and esthetic experience. Finally we have, as the 
record of this chasm, accepted as if it were normal, the philosophies 
of art that locate it in a region inhabited by no other creature, 
and that emphasize beyond all reason the merely contemplative 
character of the esthetic. Confusion of values enters in to accentu¬ 
ate the separation. Adventitious matters, like the pleasure of 
collecting, of exhibiting, of ownership and display, simulate 
esthetic values. Criticism is affected. There is much applause 
for the wonders of appreciation and the glories of the tran¬ 
scendent beauty of art indulged in without much regard to ca¬ 
pacity for esthetic perception in the concrete. 

My purpose, however, is not to engage in an economic 
interpretation of the history of the arts, much less to argue that 
economic conditions are either invariably or directly relevant to 
perception and enjoyment, or even to interpretation of individual 
works of art. It is to indicate that theories which isolate art and 
its appreciation by placing them in a realm of their own, discon¬ 
nected from other modes of experiencing, are not inherent in the 
subject-matter but arise because of specifiable extraneous condi¬ 
tions. Embedded as they are in institutions and in habits of life, 
these conditions operate effectively because they work so uncon¬ 
sciously. Then the theorist assumes they are embedded in the 
nature of things. Nevertheless, the influence of these conditions 
is not confined to theory. As I have already indicated, it deeply 
affects the practice of living, driving away esthetic perceptions 
that are necessary ingredients of happiness, or reducing them to 
the level of compensating transient pleasurable excitations. 

Even to readers who are adversely inclined to what has 
been said, the implications of the statements that have been 
made may be useful in defining the nature of the problem: that 
of recovering the continuity of esthetic experience with normal 
processes of living. The understanding of art and of its rfile in 
civilization is not furthered by setting out with eulogies of it 
nor by occupying ourselves exclusively at the outset with great 
works of art recognized as such. The comprehension which theory 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


U 


essays will be arrived at by a detour; by going back to experi¬ 
ence of the common or mill run of things to discover the esthetic 
quality such experience possesses. Theory can start with and 
from acknowledged works of art only when the esthetic is already 
compartmentalized, or only when works of art are set in a niche 
apart instead of being celebrations, recognized as such, of the 
things of ordinary experience. Even a crude experience, if au¬ 
thentically an experience, is more fit to give a clue to the intrinsic 
nature of esthetic experience than is an object already set apart 
from any other mode of experience. Following this clue we can 
discover how the work of art develops and accentuates what is 
characteristically valuable in things of everyday enjoyment. The 
art product will then be seen to issue from the latter, when the 
full meaning of ordinary experience is expressed, as dyes come 
out of coal tar products when they receive special treatment. 

Many theories about art already exist. If there is justifica* 
tion for proposing yet another philosophy of the esthetic, it must 
be found in a new mode of approach. Combinations and permuta¬ 
tions among existing theories can easily be brought forth by those 
so inclined. But, to my mind, the trouble with existing theories 
is that they start from a ready-made compartmentalization, or 
from a conception of art that “spiritualizes” it out of connection 
with the objects of concrete experience. The alternative, however, 
to such spiritualization is not a degrading and Philistinish ma¬ 
terialization of works of fine art, but a conception that discloses 
the way in which these works idealize qualities found in common 
experience. Were works of art placed in a directly human context 
in popular esteem, they would have a much wider appeal than 
they can have when pigeon-hole theories of art win general 
acceptance. 

A conception of fine art that sets out from its connection 
with discovered qualities of ordinary experience will be able 
to indicate the factors and forces that favor the normal de- 
velopment of common human activities into matters of artistic 
value. It will also be able to point out those conditions that arrest 
its normal growth. Writers on esthetic theory often raise the 
question of whether esthetic philosophy can aid in cultivation of 
esthetic appreciation. The question is a branch of the general 
theory of criticism, which, it seems to me, fails to accomplish 



12 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


its full office if it does not indicate what to look for and what to 
find in concrete esthetic objects. But, in any case, it is safe to 
say that a philosophy of art is sterilized unless it makes us aware 
of the function of art in relation to other modes of experience, 
and unless it indicates why this function is so inadequately 
realized, and unless it suggests the conditions under which the 
office would be successfully performed. 

The comparison of the emergence of works of art out of 
ordinary experiences to the refining of raw materials into valuable 
products may seem to some unworthy, if not an actual attempt 
to reduce works of art to the status of articles manufactured for 
commercial purposes. The point, however, is that no amount of 
ecstatic eulogy of finished works can of itself assist the under¬ 
standing or the generation of such works. Flowers can be enjoyed 
without knowing about the interactions of soil, air, moisture, 
and seeds of which they are the result. But they cannot be under¬ 
stood without taking just these interactions into account—and 
theory is a matter of understanding. Theory is concerned with 
discovering the nature of the production of works of art and of 
their enjoyment in perception. How is it that the everyday making 
of things grows into that form of making which is genuinely 
artistic? How is it that our everyday enjoyment of scenes and 
situations develops into the peculiar satisfaction that attends the 
experience which is emphatically esthetic? These are the ques¬ 
tions theory must answer. The answers cannot be found, unless 
we are willing to find the germs and roots in matters of experi¬ 
ence that we do not currently regard as esthetic. Having dis¬ 
covered these active seeds, we may follow the course of their 
growth into the highest forms of finished and refined art. 

It is a commonplace that we cannot direct, save acciden¬ 
tally, the growth and flowering of plants, however lovely and 
enjoyed, without understanding their causal conditions. It should 
be just a commonplace that esthetic understanding—as distinct 
from sheer personal enjoyment—must start with the soil, air, and 
light out of which things esthetically admirable arise. And these 
conditions are the conditions and factors that make an ordinary 
experience complete. The more we recognize this fact, the more 
we shall find ourselves faced with a problem rather than with 
a final solution. // artistic and esthetic qualify is implicit in every 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


13 


normal experience, how shall we explain how and why it so gen¬ 
erally fails to become explicit? Why is it that to multitudes art 
seems to be an importation into experience from a foreign country 
and the esthetic to be a synonym for something artificial? 


WE cannot answer these questions any more than we can trace 
the development of art out of everyday experience, unless we 
have a dear and coherent idea of what is meant when we say 
“normal experience.” Fortunately, the road to arriving at such 
an idea is open and well marked. The nature of experience is 
determined by the essential conditions of life. While man is other 
than bird and beast, he shares basic vital functions with them and 
has to make the same basal adjustments if he is to continue the 
process of living. Having the same vital needs, man derives the 
means by which he breathes, moves, looks and listens, the very 
brain with which he coordinates his senses and his movements, 
from his animal forbears. The organs with which he maintains 
himself in being are not of himsdf alone, but by the grace of 
struggles and achievements of a long line of animal ancestry. 

Fortunately a theory of the place of the esthetic in experi¬ 
ence does not have to lose itsdf in minute details when it starts 
with experience in its elemental form. Broad outlines suffice. The 
first great consideration is that life goes on in an environment; 
not merely in it but because of it, through interaction with it. No 
creature lives merely under its skin; its subcutaneous organs are 
means of connection with what lies beyond its bodily frame, and 
to which, in order to live, it must adjust itself, by accommodation 
and defense but also by conquest. At every moment, the living 
creature is exposed to dangers from its surroundings, and at every 
moment, it must draw upon something in its surroundings to 
satisfy its needs. The career and destiny of a living being are 
bound up with its interchanges with its environment, not ex¬ 
ternally but in the most intimate way. 

The growl of a dog crouching over his food, his howl in 
time of loss and loneliness, the wagging of his tail at the return 
of his human friend are expressions of the implication of a liv¬ 
ing in a natural medium which includes man along with the ani¬ 
mal he has domesticated. Every need, say hunger for fresh air 



14 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


or food, is a lack that denotes at least a temporary absence of 
adequate adjustment with surroundings. But it is also a demand, 
a reaching out into the environment to make good the lack and to 
restore adjustment by building at least a temporary equilibrium. 
Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of 
step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers 
unison with it—either through effort or by some happy chance. 
And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a 
prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and re¬ 
sistance through which it has successfully passed. If the gap be¬ 
tween organism and environment is too wide, the creature dies. 
If its activity is not enhanced by the temporary alienation, it 
merely subsists. Life grows when a temporary falling out is a 
transition to a more extensive balance of the energies of the or¬ 
ganism with those of the conditions under which it lives. 

These biological commonplaces are something more than 
that; they reach to the roots of the esthetic in experience. The 
world is full of things that are indifferent and even hostile to life; 
the very processes by which life is maintained tend to throw it 
out of gear with its surroundings. Nevertheless, if life continues 
and if in continuing it expands, there is an overcoming of factors 
of opposition and conflict; there is a transformation of them 
into differentiated aspects of a higher powered and more signifi¬ 
cant life. The marvel of organic, of vital, adaptation through ex¬ 
pansion (instead of by contraction and passive accommodation) 
actually takes place. Here in germ are balance and harmony at¬ 
tained through rhythm. Equilibrium comes about not mechanically 
and inertly but out of, and because of, tension. 

There is in nature, even below the level of life, something 
more than mere flux and change. Form is arrived at whenever a 
stable, even though moving, equilibrium is reached. Changes in¬ 
terlock and sustain one another. Wherever there is this coherence 
there is endurance. Order is not imposed from without but is 
made out of the relations of harmonious interactions that energies 
bear to one another. Because it is active (not anything static be¬ 
cause foreign to what goes on) order itself develops. It comes 
to include within its balanced movement a greater variety of 
changes. 

Order cannot but be admirable in a world constantly 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


IS 


threatened with disorder—in a world where living creatures can 
go on living only by taking advantage of whatever order exists 
about them, incorporating it into themselves. In a world like ours, 
every living creature that attains sensibility welcomes order with 
a response of harmonious feeling whenever it finds a congruous 
order about it. 

For only when an organism shares in the ordered rela¬ 
tions of its environment does it secure the stability essential to 
living. And when the participation comes after a phase of dis¬ 
ruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a con¬ 
summation akin to the esthetic. 

The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and 
recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious 
with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms pur¬ 
poses. Emotion is the conscious sign of a break, actual or im¬ 
pending. The discord is the occasion that induces reflection. 
Desire for restoration of the union converts mere emotion into 
interest in objects as conditions of realization of harmony. With 
the realization, material of reflection is incorporated into objects 
as their meaning. Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the 
phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun 
moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not 
for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to 
living consciousness an experience that is unified and total. In 
contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific 
man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension be¬ 
tween the matter of observation and of thought is marked. Of 
course he cares for their resolution. But he does not rest in it; 
he passes on to another problem using an attained solution only 
as a stepping stone from which to set on foot further inquiries. 

The difference between the esthetic and the intellectual is 
thus one of the place where emphasis falls in the constant rhythm 
that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surround¬ 
ings. The ultimate matter of both emphases in experience is the 
same, as is also their general form. The odd notion that an artist 
does not think and a scientific inquirer does nothing else is the 
result of converting a difference of tempo and emphasis into a 
difference in kind. The thinker has his esthetic moment when 
his ideas cease to be mere ideas and become the corporate mean- 



16 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


ings of objects. The artist has his problems and thinks as he 
works. But his thought is more immediately embodied in the ob¬ 
ject. Because of the comparative remoteness of his end, the scien¬ 
tific worker operates with symbols, words and mathematical signs. 
The artist does his thinking in the very qualitative media he 
works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that he is pro¬ 
ducing that they merge directly into it. 

The live animal does not have to project emotions into 
the objects experienced. Nature is kind and hateful, bland and 
morose, irritating and comforting, long before she is mathemati¬ 
cally qualified or even a congeries of “secondary” qualities like 
colors and their shapes. Even such words as long and short, solid 
and hollow, still carry to all, but those who are intellectually spe¬ 
cialized, a moral and emotional connotation. The dictionary will 
inform any one who consults it that the early use of words like 
sweet and bitter was not to denote qualities of sense as such but 
to discriminate things as favorable and hostile. How could it be 
otherwise? Direct experience comes from nature and man interact¬ 
ing with each other. In this interaction, human energy gathers, is 
released, dammed up, frustrated and victorious. There are rhyth¬ 
mic beats of want and fulfillment, pulses of doing and being 
withheld from doing. 

All interactions that effect stability and order in the whirl¬ 
ing flux of change are rhythms. There is ebb and flow, systole and 
diastolei ordered change. The latter moves within bounds. To 
overpass the limits that are set is destruction and death, out of 
which, however, new rhythms are built up. The proportionate 
interception of changes establishes an order that is spatially, not 
merely temporally patterned: like the waves of the sea, the rip¬ 
ples of sand where waves have flowed back and forth, the fleecy 
and the black-bottomed cloud. Contrast of lack and fullness, of 
struggle and achievement, of adjustment after consummated ir¬ 
regularity, form the drama in which action, feeling, and meaning 
are one. The outcome is balance and counterbalance. These are 
not static nor mechanical. They express power that is intense 
because measured through overcoming resistance. Environing ob¬ 
jects avail and counteravail. 

There are two sorts of possible worlds in which esthetic 
experience would not occur. In a world of mere flux, change 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


17 


would not be cumulative; it would not move toward a close. 
Stability and rest would have no being. Equally is it true, how¬ 
ever, that a world that is finished, ended, would have no traits 
of suspense and crisis, and would offer no opportunity for resolu¬ 
tion. Where everything is already complete, there is no fulfill¬ 
ment. We envisage with pleasure Nirvana and a uniform heavenly 
bliss only because they are projected upon the background of our 
present world of stress and conflict. Because the actual world, 
that in which we live, is a combination of movement and cul¬ 
mination, of breaks and re-unions, the experience of a living 
creature is capable of esthetic quality. The live being recurrently 
loses and reestablishes equilibrium with his surroundings. The 
moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of 
intensest life. In a finished world, sleep and waking could not be 
distinguished. In one wholly perturbed, conditions could not even 
be struggled with. In a world made after the pattern of ours, 
moments of fulfillment punctuate experience with rhythmically 
enjoyed intervals. 

Inner harmony is attained only when, by some means, 
terms are made with the environment. When it occurs on any 
other than an “objective” basis, it is illusory—in extreme cases 
to the point of insanity. Fortunately for variety in experience, 
terms are made in many ways—ways ultimately decided by selec¬ 
tive interest. Pleasures may come about through chance contact 
and stimulation; such pleasures are not to be despised in a world 
full of pain. But happiness and delight are a different sort of 
thing. They come to be through a fulfillment that reaches to the 
depths of our being—one that is an adjustment of our whole 
being with the conditions of existence. In the process of living, 
attainment of a period of equilibrium is at the same time the 
initiation of a new relation to the environment, one that brings 
with it potency of new adjustments to be made through struggle. 
The time of consummation is also one of beginning anew. Any 
attempt to perpetuate beyond its term the enjoyment attending 
the time of fulfillment and harmony constitutes withdrawal from 
the world. Hence it marks the lowering and loss of vitality. But, 
through the phases of perturbation and conflict, there abides the 
deep-seated memory of an underlying harmony, the sense of 
which haunts life like the sense of being founded on a rock. 



18 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


Most mortals are conscious that a split often occurs be¬ 
tween their present living and their past and future. Then the 
past hangs upon them as a burden; it invades the present with a 
sense of regret, of opportunities not used, and of consequences 
we wish undone. It rests upon the present as an oppression, in¬ 
stead of being a storehouse of resources by which to move con¬ 
fidently forward. But the live creature adopts its past; it can 
make friends with even its stupidities, using them as warnings 
that increase present wariness. Instead of trying to live upon 
whatever may have been achieved in the past, it uses past suc¬ 
cesses to inform the present. Every living experience owes its 
richness to what Santayana well calls “hushed reverberations.” * 

To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a 
promise; it surrounds the present as a halo. It consists of possi¬ 
bilities that are felt as a possession of what is now and here. 
In life that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges. 
But all too often we exist in apprehensions of what the future 
may bring, and are divided within ourselves. Even when not 
overanxious, we do not enjoy the present because we subordinate 
it to that which is absent. Because of the frequency of this aban¬ 
donment of the present to the past and future, the happy periods 
of an experience that is now complete because it absorbs into itself 
memories of the past and anticipations of the future, come to con¬ 
stitute an esthetic ideal. Only when the past ceases to trouble 
and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly 
united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art cele¬ 
brates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past 
reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening 
of what now is. 

To grasp the sources of esthetic experience it is, therefore, 
necessary to have recourse to animal life below the human scale. 

♦ "These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird notes, this sky 
with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of 
personality given to it by the capricious hedge, such things as these are the 
mother tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the 
subtle inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind 
them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass today might be no 
more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sun¬ 
shine and grass of far-off years, which still live in us and transform our per¬ 
ception into love.” George Eliot in “The Mill on the Floss.” 



THE LIVE CREATURE 


19 


The activities of the fox, the dog, and the thrush may at least 
stand as reminders and symbols of that unity of experience which 
we so fractionize when work is labor, and thought withdraws us 
from the world. The live animal is fully present, all there, in all 
of its actions: in its wary glances, its sharp sniffings, its abrupt 
cocking of ears. All senses are equally on the qui vive. As you 
watch, you see motion merging into sense and sense into motion 
—constituting that animal grace so hard for man to rival. What 
the live creature retains from the past and what it expects from 
the future operate as directions in the present. The dog is never 
pedantic nor academic; for these things arise only when the past 
is severed in consciousness from the present and is set up as a 
model to copy or a storehouse upon which to draw. The past 
absorbed into the present carries on; it presses forward. 

There is much in the life of the savage that is sodden. But, 
when the savage is most alive, he is most observant of the world 
about him and most taut with energy. As he watches what stirs 
about him, he, too, is stirred. His observation is both action in 
preparation and foresight of the future. He is as active through 
his whole being when he looks and listens as when he stalks his 
quarry or stealthily retreats from a foe. His senses are sentinels 
of immediate thought and outposts of action, and not, as they so 
often are with us, mere pathways along which material is gath¬ 
ered to be stored away for a delayed and remote possibility. 

It is mere ignorance that leads then to the supposition 
that connection of art and esthetic perception with experience 
signifies a lowering of their significance and dignity. Experience 
in the degree in which it is experience is heightened vitality. 
Instead of signifying being shut up within one’s own pri /ate feel¬ 
ings and sensations, it signifies active and alert commerce with 
the world; at its height it signifies complete interpenetration of 
self and the world of objects and events. Instead of signifying 
surrender to caprice and disorder, it affords our sole demonstra¬ 
tion of a stability that is not stagnation but is rhythmic and de¬ 
veloping. Because experience is the fulfillment of an organism 
in its struggles and achievements in a world of things, it is art in 
germ. Even in its rudimentary forms, it contains the promise 
of that delightful perception which is esthetic experience. 



CHAPTER If 


THE LIVE CREATURE AND 
"ETHERIAL THINGS" * 


\ A THY IS the attempt to connect the higher and ideal things 
Y V of experience with basic vital roots so often regarded as 
betrayal of their nature and denial of their value? Why is there 
repulsion when the high achievements of fine art are brought 
into connection with common life, the life that we share with all 
living creatures? Why is life thought of as an affair of low 
appetite, or at its best a thing of gross sensation, and ready to 
sink from its best to the level of lust and harsh cruelty? A com¬ 
plete answer to the question would involve the writing of a history 
of morals that would set forth the conditions that have brought 
about contempt for the body, fear of the senses, and the opposi¬ 
tion of flesh to spirit. 

One aspect of this history is so relevant to our problem 
that it must receive at least passing notice. The institutional life 
of mankind is marked by disorganization. This disorder is often 
disguised by the fact that it takes the form of static division into 
classes, and this static separation is accepted as the very essence 
of order as long as it is so fixed and so accepted as not to gen¬ 
erate open conflict. Life is compartmentalized and the institu¬ 
tionalized compartments are classified as high and as low; their 
values as profane and spiritual, as material and ideal. Interests 
are related to one another externally and mechanically, through 
a system of checks and balances. Since religion, morals, politics, 
business has each its own compartment, within which it is fitting 
each should remain, art, too, must have its peculiar and private 
realm. Compartmentalization of occupations and interests brings 
about separation of that mode of activity commonly called “prac- 

*The Sun, the Moon, the Earth and its contents, are material to form 
greater things, that is, etherial things—greater things than the Creator him¬ 
self made.— John Keats. 



"ETHERIAL THINGS'* 


21 


tice” from insight, of imagination from executive doing, of sig¬ 
nificant purpose from work, of emotion from thought and doing. 
Each of these has, too, its own place in which it must abide. 
Those who write the anatomy of experience then suppose that 
these divisions inhere in the very constitution of human nature. 

Of much of our experience as it is actually lived under 
present economic and legal institutional conditions, it is only too 
true that these separations hold. Only occasionally in the lives 
of many are the senses fraught with the sentiment that comes 
from deep realization of intrinsic meanings. We undergo sensa¬ 
tions as mechanical stimuli or as irritated stimulations, without 
having a sense of the reality that is in them and behind them: in 
much of our experience our different senses do not unite to tell a 
common and enlarged story. We see without feeling; we hear, 
but only a second-hand report, second hand because not reen¬ 
forced by vision. We touch, but the contact remains tangential 
because it does not fuse with qualities of senses that go below 
the surface. We use the senses to arouse passion but not to fulfill 
the interest of insight, not because that interest is not potentially 
present in the exercise of sense but because we yield to condi¬ 
tions of living that force sense to remain an excitation on the 
surface. Prestige goes to those, who use their minds without par¬ 
ticipation of the body and who act vicariously through control of 
the bodies and labor of others. 

Under such conditions, sense and flesh get a bad name. 
The moralist, however, has a truer sense of the intimate connec¬ 
tions of sense with the rest of our being than has the professional 
psychologist and philosopher, although his sense of these connec¬ 
tions takes a direction that reverses the potential facts of our 
living in relation to the environment. Psychologist and philoso¬ 
pher have in recent times been so obsessed with the problem of 
knowledge that they have treated “sensations” as mere elements 
of knowledge. The moralist knows that sense is allied with emo¬ 
tion, impulse and appetition. So he denounces the lust of the eye 
as part of the surrender of spirit to flesh. He identifies the sensu¬ 
ous with the sensual and the sensual with the lewd. His moral 
theory is askew, but at least he is aware that the eye is not an 
imperfect telescope designed for intellectual reception of material 
to bring about knowledge of distant objects. 



22 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


“Sense” covers a wide range of contents: the sensory, the 
sensational, the sensitive, the sensible, and the sentimental, along 
with the sensuous. It includes almost everything from bare phys¬ 
ical and emotional shock to sense itself—that is, the meaning of 
things present in immediate experience. Each term refers to some 
real phase and aspect of the life of an organic creature as life 
occurs through sense organs. But sense, as meaning so directly 
embodied in experience as to be its own illuminated meaning, 
is the only signification that expresses the function of sense organs 
when they are carried to full realization. The senses are the organs 
through which the live creature participates directly in the on¬ 
goings of the world about him. In this participation the varied 
wonder and splendor of this world are made actual for him in the 
qualities he experiences. This material cannot be opposed to ac¬ 
tion, for motor apparatus and “will” itself are the means by which 
this participation is carried on and directed. It cannot be opposed 
to “intellect,” for mind is the means by which participation is 
rendered fruitful through sense; by which meanings and values 
are extracted, retained, and put to further service in the inter¬ 
course of the live creature with his surroundings. 

Experience is the result, the sign, and the reward of that 
interaction of organism and environment which, when it is car¬ 
ried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participa¬ 
tion and communication. Since sense-organs with their connected 
motor apparatus are the means of this participation, any and 
every derogation of them, whether practical or theoretical, is at 
once effect and cause of a narrowed and dulled life-experience. 
Oppositions of mind and body, soul and matter, spirit and flesh 
all have their origin, fundamentally, in fear of what life may 
bring forth. They are marks of contraction and withdrawal. Full 
recognition, therefore, of the continuity of the organs, needs and 
basic impulses of the human creature with his animal forbears, 
implies no necessary reduction of man to the level of the brutes. 
On the contrary, it makes possible the drawing of a ground-plan 
of human experience upon which is erected the superstructure of 
man’s marvelous and distinguishing experience. What is distinc¬ 
tive in man makes it possible for him to sink below the level of 
the beasts. It also makes it possible for him to carry to new and 
unprecedented heights that unity of sense and impulse, of brain 



"ETHERIAL THINGS" 


23 


and eye and ear, that is exemplified in animal life, saturating it 
with the conscious meanings derived from communication and 
deliberate expression. 

Man excels in complexity and minuteness of differentia¬ 
tions. This very fact constitutes the necessity for many more 
comprehensive and exact relationships among the constituents of 
his being. Important as are the distinctions and relations thus 
made possible, the story does not end here. There are more op¬ 
portunities for resistance and tension, more drafts upon experi¬ 
mentation and invention, and therefore more novelty in action, 
greater range and depth of insight and increase of poignancy in 
feeling. As an organism increases in complexity, the rhythms of 
struggle and consummation in its relation to its environment are 
varied and prolonged, and they come to include within them¬ 
selves an endless variety of sub-rhythms. The designs of living 
are widened and enriched. Fulfillment is more massive and more 
subtly shaded. 

Space thus becomes something more than a void in which 
to roam about, dotted here and there with dangerous things 
and things that satisfy the appetite. It becomes a comprehensive 
and enclosed scene within which are ordered the multiplicity of 
doings and undergoings in which man engages. Time ceases to be 
either the endless and uniform flow or the succession of instan¬ 
taneous points which some philosophers have asserted it to be. 
It, too, is the organized and organizing medium of the rhythmic 
ebb and flow of expectant impulse, forward and retracted move¬ 
ment, resistance and suspense, with fulfillment and consumma¬ 
tion. It is an ordering of growth and maturations—as James said, 
we learn to skate in summer after having commenced in winter. 
Time as organization in change is growth, and growth signifies 
that a varied series of change enters upon intervals of pause and 
rest; of completions that become the initial points of new proc¬ 
esses of development. Like the soil, mind is fertilized while it lies 
fallow, until a new burst of bloom ensues. 

When a flash of lightning illumines a dark landscape, there 
is a momentary recognition of objects. But the recognition is not 
itself a mere point in time. It is the focal culmination of long, 
slow processes of maturation. It is the manifestation of the con¬ 
tinuity of an ordered temporal experience in a sudden discrete 



24 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


instant of climax. It is as meaningless in isolation as would be 
the drama of Hamlet were it confined to a single line or word 
with no context. But the phrase “the rest is silence” is infinitely 
pregnant as the conclusion of a drama enacted through develop¬ 
ment in time; so may be the momentary perception of a natural 
scene. Form, as it is present in the fine arts, is the art of making 
clear what is involved in the organization of space and time pre¬ 
figured in every course of a developing life-experience. 

Moments and places, despite physical limitation and nar¬ 
row localization, are charged with accumulations of long-gath¬ 
ering energy. A return to a scene of childhood that was left long 
years before floods the spot with a release of pent-up memories 
and hopes. To meet in a strange country one who is a casual 
acquaintance at home may arouse a satisfaction so acute as to 
bring a thrill. Mere recognitions occur only when we are occu¬ 
pied with something else than the object or person recognized. 
It marks either an interruption or else an intent to use what is 
recognized as a means for something else. To see, to perceive, is 
more than to recognize. It does not identify something present 
in terms of a past disconnected from it. The past is carried into 
the present so as to expand and deepen the content of the latter. 
There is illustrated the translation of bare continuity of external 
time into the vital order and organization of experience. Identifi¬ 
cation nods and passes on. Or it defines a passing moment in 
isolation, it marks a dead spot in experience that is merely filled 
in. The extent to which the process of living in any day or hour is 
reduced to labeling situations, events, and objects as “so-and-so” 
in mere succession marks the cessation of a life that is a conscious 
experience. Continuities realized in an individual, discrete, form 
are the essence of the latter. 

Art is thus prefigured in the very processes of living. A 
bird builds its nest and a beaver its dam when internal organic 
pressures cooperate with external materials so that the formet 
are fulfilled and the latter are transformed in a satisfying cul« 
mination. We may hesitate to apply the word “art,” since wy 
doubt the presence of directive intent. But all deliberation, all 
conscious intent, grows out of things once performed organically 
through the interplay of natural energies. Were it not so, ari 
would be built on quaking sands, nay, on unstable air. The dis- 



"ETHERIAL THINGS” 


25 


tinguishing contribution of man is consciousness of the relations 
found in nature. Through consciousness, he converts the relations 
of cause and effect that are found in nature into relations of 
means and consequence. Rather, consciousness itself is the incep¬ 
tion of such a transformation. What was mere shock becomes an 
invitation; resistance becomes something to be used in changing 
existing arrangements of matter; smooth facilities become agen¬ 
cies for executing an idea. In these operations, an organic stimu¬ 
lation becomes the bearer of meanings, and motor responses are 
changed into instruments of expression and communication; no 
longer are they mere means of locomotion and direct reaction. 
Meanwhile, the organic substratum remains as the quickening 
and deep foundation. Apart from relations of cause and effect in 
nature, conception and invention could not be. Apart from the 
relation of processes of rhythmic conflict and fulfillment in animal 
life, experience would be without design and pattern. Apart from 
organs inherited from animal ancestry, idea and purpose would 
be without a mechanism of realization. The primeval arts of na¬ 
ture and animal life are so much the material, and, in gross out¬ 
line, so much the model for the intentional achievements of man, 
that the theologically minded have imputed conscious intent to 
the structure of nature—as man, sharing many activities with 
the ape, is wont to think of the latter as imitating his own per¬ 
formances. 

The existence of art is the concrete proof of what has just 
been stated abstractly. It is proof that man uses the mate¬ 
rials and energies of nature with intent to expand his own 
life, and that he does so in accord with the structure of his or¬ 
ganism—brain, sense-organs, and muscular system. Art is the 
living and concrete proof that man is capable of restoring con¬ 
sciously, and thus on the plane of meaning, the union of sense, 
need, impulse and action characteristic of the live creature. The 
intervention of consciousness adds regulation, power of selection, 
and redisposition. Thus it varies the arts in ways without end. 
But its intervention also leads in time to the idea of art as a con¬ 
scious idea—the greatest intellectual achievement in the history 
of humanity. 

The variety and perfection of the arts in Greece led 
thinkers to frame a generalized conception of art and to project 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


26 

the ideal of an art of organization of human activities as such— 
the art of politics and morals as conceived by Socrates and Plato. 
The ideas of design, plan, order, pattern, purpose emerged in dis¬ 
tinction from and relation to the materials employed in their reali¬ 
zation. The conception of man as the being that uses art became 
at once the ground of the distinction of man from the rest of 
nature and of the bond that ties him to nature. When the concep¬ 
tion of art as the distinguishing trait of man was made explicit, 
there was assurance that, short of complete relapse of humanity 
below even savagery, the possibility of invention of new arts 
would remain, along with use of old arts, as the guiding ideal of 
mankind. Although recognition of the fact still halts, because of 
traditions established before the power of art was adequately 
recognized, science itself is but a central art auxiliary to the gen¬ 
eration and utilization of other arts.* 

It is customary, and from some points of view necessary, 
to make a distinction between fine art and useful or technological 
art. But the point of view from which it is necessary is one that 
is extrinsic to the work of art itself. The customary distinction is 
based simply on acceptance of certain existing social conditions. 
I suppose the fetiches of the negro sculptor were taken to be 
useful in the highest degree to his tribal group, more so even than 
spears and clothing. But now they are fine art, serving in the 
twentieth century to inspire renovations in arts that had grown 
conventional. But they are fine art only because the anonymous 
artist lived and experienced so fully during the process of pro¬ 
duction. An angler may eat his catch without thereby losing the 
esthetic satisfaction he experienced in casting and playing. It is 
this degree of completeness of living in the experience of making 
and of perceiving that makes the difference between what is fine 
or esthetic in art and what is not. Whether the thing made is put 
to use, as are bowls, rugs, garments, weapons, is, intrinsically 
speaking, a matter of indifference. That many, perhaps most, of 
the articles and utensils made at present for use are not genuinely 

*1 have developed this point in “Experience and Nature ” in Chapter 
Nine, on Experience, Nature and Art. As far as the present point is concerned, 
the conclusion is contained in the statement that “art, the mode of activity 
that is charged with meanings capable of immediately enjoyed possession, is 
the complete culmination of nature, and that science is properly a hand¬ 
maiden that conducts natural events to this happy issue.” (P. 358.) 



"ETHERIAL THINGS ' 1 


27 


esthetic happens, unfortunately, to be true. But it is true for 
reasons that are foreign to the relation of the “beautiful” and 
“useful” as such. Wherever conditions are such as to prevent 
the act of production from being an experience in which the 
whole creature is alive and in which he possesses his living 
through enjoyment, the product will lack something of being 
esthetic. No matter how useful it is for special and limited ends, 
it will not be useful in the ultimate degree—that of contributing 
directly and liberally to an expanding and enriched life. The 
story of the severance and final sharp opposition of the useful and 
the fine is the history of that industrial development through 
which so much of production has become a form of postponed 
living and so much of consumption a superimposed enjoyment of 
the fruits of the labor of others. 


USUALLY there is a hostile reaction to a conception of art that 
connects it with the activities of a live creature in its environ¬ 
ment. The hostility to association of fine art with normal proc¬ 
esses of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as 
it is ordinarily lived. Only because that life is usually so stunted, 
aborted, slack, or heavy laden, is the idea entertained that there is 
some inherent antagonism between the process of normal living 
and creation and enjoyment of works of esthetic art. After all, 
even though “spiritual” and “material” are separated and set in 
opposition to one another, there must be conditions through which 
the ideal is capable of embodiment and realization—and this is 
all, fundamentally, that “matter” signifies. The very currency 
which the opposition has acquired testifies, therefore, to a wide¬ 
spread operation of forces that convert what might be means 
of executing liberal ideas into oppressive burdens and that cause 
ideals to be loose aspirations in an uncertain and ungrounded 
atmosphere. 

While art itself is the best proof of the existence of a real¬ 
ized and therefore realizable, union of material and ideal, there 
are general arguments that supportthe thesis in hand. Wherever 
continuity is possible, the burden of proof rests upon those who 
assert opposition and dualism. Nature is the mother and the 



28 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


habitat of man, even if sometimes a stepmother and an unfriendly 
home. The fact that civilization endures and culture continues— 
and sometimes advances—is evidence that human hopes and pur¬ 
poses find a basis and support in nature. As the developing growth 
of an individual from embryo to maturity is the result of inter¬ 
action of organism with surroundings, so culture is the product 
not of efforts of men put forth in a void or just upon themselves, 
but of prolonged and cumulative interaction with environment. 
The depth of the responses stirred by works of art shows their 
continuity with the operations of this enduring experience. The 
works and the responses they evoke are continuous with the very 
processes of living as these are carried to unexpected happy ful¬ 
fillment. 

As to absorption of the esthetic in nature, I cite a case 
duplicated in some measure in thousands of persons, but no¬ 
table because expressed by an artist of the first order, W. H. 
Hudson. “I feel when I am out of sight of living, growing grass, 
and out of the sound of birds’ voices and all rural sounds, that I 
am not properly alive.” He goes on to say, “... when I hear 
people say that they have not found the world and fife so agree¬ 
able and interesting as to be in love with it, or that they look 
with equanimity to its end, I am apt to think that they have 
never been properly alive, nor seen with dear vision the world 
they think so meanly of or anything in it—not even a blade of 
grass.” The mystic aspect of acute esthetic surrender, that ren¬ 
ders it so akin as an experience to what religionists term ecstatic 
communion, is recalled by Hudson from his boyhood life. He is 
speaking of the effect the sight of acada trees had upon him. 
“The loose feathery foliage on moonlight nights had a peculiar 
hoary aspect that made this tree seem more intensely alive than 
others, more conscious of me and of my presence.... Similar to 
a feeling a person would have if visited by a supernatural being 
if he was perfectly convinced that it was there in his presence, 
albeit silent and. unseen, intently regarding him and divining 
every thought in his mind.” Emerson is often regarded as an 
austere thinker. But it was Emerson as an adult who said, quite 
in the spirit of the passage quoted from Hudson: “Crossing a 
bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a douded sky, 
without having in my thought any occurrence of special good 



•‘ETHERIAL THINGS” 


29 


fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the 
brink of fear.” 

I do not see any way of accounting for the multiplicity of 
experiences of this kind (something of the same quality being 
found in every spontaneous and uncoerced esthetic response), 
except on the basis that there are stirred into activity resonances 
of dispositions acquired in primitive relationships of the living 
being to its surroundings, and irrecoverable in distinct or intel¬ 
lectual consciousness. Experiences of the sort mentioned take us 
to a further consideration that testifies to natural continuity. 
There is no limit to the capacity of immediate sensuous experi¬ 
ence to absorb into itself meanings and values that in and of 
themselves—that is in the abstract—would be designated “ideal” 
and “spiritual.” The animistic strain of religious experience, em¬ 
bodied in Hudson’s memory of his childhood days, is an instance 
on one level of experience. And the poetical, in whatever medium, 
is always a close kin of the animistic. And if we turn to an art 
that in many ways is at the other pole, architecture, we learn 
how ideas, wrought out at first perhaps in highly technical thought 
like that of mathematics, are capable of direct incorporation in 
sensuous form. The sensible surface of things is never merely 
a surface. One can discriminate rock from flimsy tissue-paper by 
the surface alone, so completely have the resistances of touch and 
the solidities due to stresses of the entire muscular system been 
embodied in vision. The process does not stop with incarnation 
of other sensory qualities that give depth of meaning to surface. 
Nothing that a man has ever reached by the highest flight of 
thought or penetrated by any probing insight is inherently such 
that it may not become the heart and core of sense. 

The same word, “symbol,” is used to designate ex¬ 
pressions of abstract thought, as in mathematics, and also 
such things as a flag, crucifix, that embody deep social value 
and the meaning of historic faith and theological creed. Incense, 
stained glass, the chiming of unseen bells, embroidered robes ac¬ 
company the approach to what is regarded as divine. The con¬ 
nection of the origin of many arts with primitive rituals becomes 
more evident with every excursion of the anthropologist into the 
past. Only those who are so far removed from the earlier ex¬ 
periences as to miss their sense will conclude that rites and 



30 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


ceremonies were merely technical devices for securing rain, sons, 
crops, success in battle. Of course they had this magical intent, 
but they were enduringly enacted, we may be sure, in spite of all 
practical failures, because they were immediate enhancements 
of the experience of living. Myths were something other than in¬ 
tellectuals tic essays of primitive man in science. Uneasiness be¬ 
fore any unfamiliar fact doubtless played its part. But delight 
in the story, in the growth and rendition of a good yarn, played 
its dominant part then as it does in the growth of popular myth¬ 
ologies today. Not only does the direct sense element—and emo¬ 
tion is a mode of sense—tend to absorb all ideational matter but, 
apart from special discipline enforced by physical apparatus, it 
subdues and digests all that is merely intellectual. 

The introduction of the supernatural into belief and the 
all too human easy reversion to the supernatural is much more 
an affair of the psychology that generates works of art than of 
effort at scientific and philosophic explanation. It intensifies emo¬ 
tional thrill and punctuates the interest that belongs to all break 
in familiar routine. Were the hold of the supernatural on human 
thought an exclusively—or even mainly—intellectual matter, it 
would be comparatively insignificant. Theologies and cosmogonies 
have laid hold of imagination because they have been attended 
with solemn processions, incense, embroidered robes, music, the 
radiance of colored lights, with stories that stir wonder and in¬ 
duce hypnotic admiration. That is, they have come to man through 
a direct appeal to sense and to sensuous imagination. Most re¬ 
ligions have identified their sacraments with the highest reaches 
of art, and the most authoritative beliefs have been clothed in a 
garb of pomp and pageantry that gives immediate delight to eye 
and ear and that evokes massive emotions of suspense, wonder, 
and awe. The flights of physicists and astronomers today answer 
to the esthetic need for satisfaction of the imagination rather 
than to any strict demand of unemotional evidence for rational 
interpretation. 

Henry Adams made it clear that the theology of the 
middle ages is a construction of the same intent as that which 
wrought the cathedrals. In general this middle age, popularly 
deemed to express the acme of Christian faith in the western 
world, is a demonstration of the power of sense to absorb the 



"ETHERIAL THINGS" 


31 


most highly spiritualized ideas. Music, painting, sculpture, archi¬ 
tecture, drama and romance were handmaidens of religion, as 
much as were science and scholarship. The arts hardly had a 
being- outside of the church, and the rites and ceremonies of the 
church were arts enacted under conditions that gave them the 
maximum possible of emotional and imaginative appeal. For I do 
not know what would give the spectator and auditor of the mani¬ 
festation of the arts a more poignant surrender than the convic¬ 
tion that they were informed with the necessary means of eternal 
glory and bliss. 

The following words of Pater are worth quoting in this 
connection. “The Christianity of the middle ages made its way 
partly by its esthetic beauty, a thing so profoundly felt by the 
Latin hymn writers, who jot one moral or spiritual sentiment had 
a hundred sensuous images. A passion of which the outlets are 
sealed begets a tension of nerve in which the sensible world comes 
to one with a reinforced brilliancy and relief—all redness turned 
into blood, all water into tears. Hence a wild convulsed sensuous¬ 
ness in all the poetry of the middle ages, in which the things of 
nature began to play a strange delirious part. Of the things of 
nature, the medieval mind had a deep sense; but its sense of them 
was not objective, no real escape to the world without us.” 

In his autobiographical essay, The Child in the House, he 
generalizes what is implicit in this passage. He says: “In later 
years he came upon philosophies which occupied him much in the 
estimate of the proportions of the sensuous and ideal elements 
in human knowledge, the relative parts they bear in it; and, in 
his intellectual scheme, was led to assign very little to the ab¬ 
stract thought, and much to its sensible vehicle or occasion.” 
The latter “became the necessary concomitant of any perception 
of things, real enough to have any weight or reckoning, in his 
house of thought.... He came more and more to be unable to 
care for, or think of soul but as in an actual body, or of any world 
but that wherein are water and trees, and where men and women 
look, so or so, and press actual hands.” The elevation of the ideal 
above and beyond immediate sense has operated not only to make 
it pallid and bloodless, but if has acted, like a conspirator with the 
sensual mind, to impoverish and degrade all things of direct 
experience* 



32 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


In the title of this chapter I took the liberty of borrowing 
from Keats the word “etherial” to designate the meanings and 
values that many philosophers and some critics suppose are in¬ 
accessible to sense, because of their spiritual, eternal and uni¬ 
versal characters—thus exemplifying the common dualism of 
nature and spirit. Let me re-quote his words. The artist may 
look “upon the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and the Earth and its 
contents as material to form greater things, that is etherial things 
—greater things than the Creator himself made.” In making this 
use of Keats, I had also in mind the fact that he identified the 
attitude of the artist with that of the live creature; and did so not 
merely in the implicit tenor of his poetry but in reflection 
expressed the idea explicitly in words. As he wrote in a letter 
to his brother: “The greater part of men make their way 
with the same instinctiveness, the same unwandering eye from 
their purposes as the Hawk. The Hawk wants a mate, so does the 
man—look at them both, they set about and procure one in the 
same manner. They both want a nest and they both set about it 
in the same manner—they get their food in the same manner. 
The noble animal Man for his amusement smokes his pipe—the 
Hawk balances about in the clouds—this is the only difference 
of their leisures. This is that which makes the amusement of Life 
to a speculative mind. I go out among the Fields and catch a 
glimpse of a Stoat or a field mouse hurrying along—to what? The 
creature has a purpose and his eyes are bright with it. I go 
amongst the buildings of a city and see a Man hurrying along— 
to what? The Creature has a purpose and his eyes are bright with 
it... 

“Even here though I am pursuing the same instinctive 
course as the veriest human animal I can think of [though] I 
am, however young, writing at random straining at particles of 
light in the midst of great darkness, without knowing the bearing 
of any assertion, of any one opinion. Yet may I not in this be 
free from sin? May there not be superior beings amused with 
any graceful, though instinctive, attitude my mind may fall into 
as I am entertained with the alertness of a Stoat or the anxiety 
of a Deer? Though a quarrel in the streets is to be hated, the 
energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest Man has a grace 
in his quarrel. Seen by a supernatural Being our reasonings may 



"ETH ERIAL THINGS 11 


33 


take the same tone—though erroneous, they may be fine. This is 
the very thing in which consists poetry . There may be reasonings, 
but when they take an instinctive form, like that of animal forms 
and movements, they are poetry, they are fine; they have grace.” 

In another letter he speaks of Shakespeare as a man of 
enormous “Negative Capability”; as one who was “capable of 
being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable 
reaching after fact and reason.” He contrasts Shakespeare in this 
respect with his own contemporary Coleridge, who would let a 
poetic insight go when it was surrounded with obscurity, because 
he could not intellectually justify it; could not, in Keats’ lan¬ 
guage, be satisfied with “M/-knowledge.” I think the same idea 
is contained in what he says, in a letter to Bailey, that he “never 
yet has been able to perceive how anything can be known for 
truth by consecutive reasoning.... Can it be that even the great¬ 
est Philosopher ever arrived at his Goal without putting aside 
numerous objections”: asking, in effect, Does not the reasoner 
have also to trust to his “intuitions”, to what come upon him in 
his immediate sensuous and emotional experiences, even against 
objections that reflection presents to him. For he goes on to say 
“the simple imaginative mind may have its rewards in the repeti¬ 
tions of its own silent workings coming continually on the Spirit 
with a fine suddenness”—a remark that contains more of the 
psychology of productive thought than many treatises. 

In spite of the elliptical character of Keats’ statements 
two points emerge. One of them is his conviction that “reason¬ 
ings” have an origin like that of the movements of a wild creature 
toward its goal, and they may become spontaneous, “instinctive,” 
and when they become instinctive are sensuous and immediate, 
poetic. The other side of this conviction is his belief that no 
“reasoning” as reasoning, that is, as excluding imagination and 
sense, can reach truth. Even “the greatest philosopher” exercises 
an animal-like preference to guide his thinking to its conclusions. 
He selects and puts* aside as his imaginative sentiments move. 
“Reason” at its height cannot attain complete grasp and a self- 
contained assurance. It must fall back upon imagination—upon 
the embodiment of ideas in emotionally charged sense. 

There has been much dispute as to what Keats meant in 
his famous lines: 



34 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


"Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know , 99 

and what he meant in the cognate prose statement—“What im¬ 
agination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Much of the dispute 
is carried on in ignorance of the particular tradition in which 
Keats wrote and which gave the term “truth” its meaning. In 
this tradition, “truth” never signifies correctness of intellectual 
statements about things, or truth as its meaning is now influenced 
by science. It denotes the wisdom by which men live, especially 
“the lore of good and evil.” And in Keats* mind it was particu¬ 
larly connected with the question of justifying good and trusting 
to it in spite of the evil and destruction that abound. “Philoso¬ 
phy” is the attempt to answer this question rationally. Keats* 
belief that even philosophers cannot deal with the question with¬ 
out depending on imaginative intuitions receives an independent 
and positive statement in his identification of “beauty” with 
“truth”—the particular truth that solves for man the baffling 
problem of destruction and death—which weighed so constantly 
on Keats—in the very realm where life strives to assert su¬ 
premacy. Man lives in a world of surmise, of mystery, of uncer¬ 
tainties. “Reasoning” must fail man—this of course is a doctrine 
long taught by those who have held to the necessity of a divine 
revelation. Keats did not accept this supplement and substitute 
for reason. The insight of imagination must suffice. “This is all 
ye know on earth and all ye need to know.** The critical words 
are “on earth**—that is amid a scene in which “irritable reaching 
after fact and reason** confuses and distorts instead of bringing 
us to the light. It was in moments of most intense esthetic per¬ 
ception that Keats found his utmost solace and his deepest con¬ 
victions. This is the fact recorded at the close of his Ode. 
Ultimately there are but two philosophies. One of them accepts 
life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and 
half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen 
and intensify its own qualities—to imagination and art. This is 
the philosophy of Shakespeare and Keats. 



CHAPTER III 


HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


E XPERIENCE occurs continuously, because the interaction of 
live creature and environing conditions is involved in the very 
process of living. Under conditions of resistance and conflict, 
aspects and elements of the self and the world that are impli¬ 
cated in this interaction qualify experience with emotions and 
ideas so that conscious intent emerges. Oftentimes, however, the 
experience had is inchoate. Things are experienced but not in 
such a way that they are composed into an experience. There is 
distraction and dispersion; what we observe and what we think, 
what we desire and what we get, are at odds with each other. We 
put our hands to the plow and turn back; we start and then 
we stop, not because the experience has reached the end for the 
sake of which it was initiated but because of extraneous inter¬ 
ruptions or of inner lethargy. 

In contrast with such experience, we have an experience 
when the material experienced runs its course to fulfillment. Then 
and then only is it integrated within and demarcated in the gen¬ 
eral stream of experience from other experiences. A piece of work 
is finished in a way that is satisfactory; a problem receives its 
solution; a game is played through; a situation, whether that of 
eating a meal, playing a game of chess, carrying on a conversa¬ 
tion, writing a book, or taking part in a political campaign, is so 
rounded out that its close is a consummation and not a cessation. 
Such an experience is a whole and carries with it its own indi¬ 
vidualizing quality and self-sufficiency. It is an experience. 

Philosophers, even empirical philosophers, have spoken for 
the most part of experience at large. Idiomatic speech, however, 
refers to experiences each of which is singular, having its own 
beginning and end. For life is no uniform uninterrupted march 
or flow. It is a thing of histories, each with its own plot, its own 
inception and movement toward its close, each having its own 

35 



36 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


particular rhythmic movement; each with its own unrepeated 
quality pervading it throughout. A flight of stairs, mechanical as 
it is, proceeds by individualized steps, not by undifferentiated 
progression, and an inclined plane is at least marked off from 
other things by abrupt discreteness. 

Experience in this vital sense is defined by those situations 
and episodes that we spontaneously refer to as being “real ex¬ 
periences”; those things of which we say in recalling them, “that 
was an experience.” It may have been something of tremendous 
importance—a quarrel with one who was once an intimate, a 
catastrophe finally averted by a hair’s breadth. Or it may have 
been something that in comparison was slight—and which per¬ 
haps because of its very slightness illustrates all the better wbat 
Is to be an experience. There is that meal in a Paris restaurant 
of which one says “that was an experience.” It stands out as an 
enduring memorial of what food may be. Then there is that storm 
one went through in crossing the Atlantic—the storm that seemed 
In its fury, as it was experienced, to sum up in itself all that a 
storm can be, complete in itself, standing out because marked out 
from what went before and what came after. 

In such experiences, every successive part flows freely, 
without seam and without unfilled blanks, into what ensues. At 
the same time there is no sacrifice of the self-identity of the parts. 
A river, as distinct from a pond, flows. But its flow gives a defi¬ 
niteness and interest to its successive portions greater than exist in 
the homogenous portions of a pond. In an experience, flow is from 
something to something. As one part leads into another and as 
one part carries on what went before, each gains distinctness in 
itself. The enduring whole is diversified by successive phases that 
are emphases of its varied colors. 

Because of continuous merging, there are no holes, me¬ 
chanical junctions, and dead centers when we have an experience. 
There are pauses, places of rest, but they punctuate and define 
the quality of movement. They sum up what has been under¬ 
gone and prevent its dissipation and idle evaporation. Continued 
acceleration is breathless and prevents parts from gaining dis¬ 
tinction. In a work of art, different acts, episodes, occurrences 
melt and fuse into unity, and yet do not disappear and lose their 
own character as they do so—just as in a genial conversation 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


37 


there is a continuous interchange and blending, and yet each 
speaker not only retains his own character but manifests it more 
clearly than is his wont. 

An experience has a unity that gives it its name, that meal, 
that storm, that rupture of friendship. The existence of this unity 
is constituted by a single quality that pervades the entire experi¬ 
ence in spite of the variation of its constituent parts. This unity 
is neither emotional, practical, nor intellectual, for these terms 
name distinctions that reflection can make within it. In dis¬ 
course about an experience, we must make use of these adjectives 
of interpretation. In going over an experience in mind after its 
occurrence, we may find that one property rather than another 
was sufficiently dominant so that it characterizes the experience 
as a whole. There are absorbing inquiries and speculations which 
a scientific man and philosopher will recall as “experiences” in 
the emphatic sense. In final import they are intellectual. But in 
their actual occurrence they were emotional as well; they were 
purposive and volitional. Yet the experience was not a sum of 
these different characters; they were lost in it as distinctive 
traits. No thinker can ply his occupation save as he is lured and 
rewarded by total integral experiences that are intrinsically 
worth while. Without them he would never know what it is really 
to think and would be completely at a loss in distinguishing red 
thought from the spurious article. Thinking goes on in trains of 
ideas, but the ideas form a train only because they are much 
more than what an analytic psychology calls ideas. They are 
phases, emotionally and practically distinguished, of a develop¬ 
ing underlying quality; they are its moving variations, not sepa¬ 
rate and independent like Locke’s and Hume’s so-called ideas and 
impressions, but are subtle shadings of a pervading and develop¬ 
ing hue. 

We say of an experience of thinking that we reach or 
draw a conclusion. Theoretical formulation of the process is often 
made in such terms as to conceal effectually the similarity of 
“conclusion” to the consummating phase of every developing in¬ 
tegral experience. These formulations apparently take their cue 
from the separate propositions that are premisses and the proposi¬ 
tion that is the conclusion as they appear on the printed page. 
The impression is derived that there are first two independent 



38 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


and ready-made entities that are then manipulated so as to give 
rise to a third. In fact, in an experience of thinking, premisses 
emerge only as a conclusion becomes manifest. The experience, like 
that of watching a storm reach its height and gradually subside, 
is one of continuous movement of subject-matters. Like the ocean 
in the storm, there are a series of waves; suggestions reaching 
out and being broken in a dash, or being carried onwards by a 
cooperative wave. If a conclusion is reached, it is that of a move¬ 
ment of anticipation and cumulation, one that finally comes to 
completion. A “conclusion” is no separate and independent thing; 
it is the consummation of a movement. 

Hence an experience of thinking has its own esthetic 
quality. It differs from those experiences that are acknowledged 
to be esthetic, but only in its materials. The material of the fine 
arts consists of qualities; that of experience having intellec¬ 
tual condusion are signs or symbols having no intrinsic quality 
of their own, but standing for things that may in another experi¬ 
ence be qualitatively experienced. The difference is enormous. 
It is one reason why the strictly intellectual art will never 
be popular as music is popular. Nevertheless, the experience 
itself has a satisfying emotional quality because it possesses in¬ 
ternal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and 
organized movement. This artistic structure may be immediately 
felt. In so far, it is esthetic. What is even more important is that 
not only is this quality a significant motive in undertaking intel¬ 
lectual inquiry and in keeping it honest, but that no intellectual 
activity is an integral event (is an experience), unless it is 
rounded out with this quality. Without it, thinking is inconclu¬ 
sive. In short, esthetic cannot be sharply marked off from intel¬ 
lectual experience since the latter must bear an esthetic stamp 
to be itself complete. 

The same statement holds good of a course of action that 
is dominantly practical, that is, one that consists of overt doings. 
It is possible to be efficient in action and yet not have a con- 
sdous experience. The activity is too automatic to permit of a 
sense of what it is about and where it is going. It comes to an 
end but not to a close or consummation in consciousness. Ob- 
stades are overcome by shrewd skill, but they do not feed experi¬ 
ence. There are also those who are wavering in action, uncertain, 



HAYING AN EXPERIENCE 


39 


and inconclusive like the shades in classic literature. Between the 
poles of aimlessness and mechanical efficiency, there lie those 
courses of action in which through successive deeds there runs a 
sense of growing meaning conserved and accumulating toward an 
end that is felt as accomplishment of a process. Successful poli¬ 
ticians and generals who turn statesmen like Caesar and Napoleon 
have something of the showman about them. This of itself is not 
art, but it is, I think, a sign that interest is not exclusively, per¬ 
haps not mainly, held by the result taken by itself (as it is in 
the case of mere efficiency), but by it as the outcome of a 
process. There is interest in completing an experience. The ex¬ 
perience may be one that is harmful to the world and its consum¬ 
mation undesirable. But it has esthetic quality. 

The Greek identification of good conduct with conduct 
having proportion, grace, and harmony, the kalon-agathon, is a 
more obvious example of distinctive esthetic quality in moral 
action. One great defect in what passes as morality is its anesthetic 
quality. Instead of exemplifying wholehearted action, it takes 
the form of grudging piecemeal concessions to the demands of 
duty. But illustrations may only obscure the fact that any prac¬ 
tical activity will, provided that it is integrated and moves by its 
own urge to fulfillment, have esthetic quality. 

A generalized illustration may be had if we imagine a 
stone, which is rolling down hill, to have an experience. The 
activity is surely sufficiently “practical.” The stone starts from 
somewhere, and moves, as consistently as conditions permit, 
toward a place and state where it will be at rest—toward an 
end. Let us add, by imagination, to these external facts, the ideas 
that it looks forward with desire to the final outcome; that it is 
interested in the things it meets on its way, conditions that ac¬ 
celerate and retard its movement with respect to their bearing 
on the end; that it acts and feels toward them according to the 
hindering or helping function it attributes to them; and that the 
final coming to rest is related to all that went before as the culmi¬ 
nation of a continuous movement. Then the stone would have an 
experience, and one with esthetic quality. 

If we turn from this imaginary case to our own experience, 
we shall find much of it is nearer to what happens to the actual 
stone than it is to anything that fulfills the conditions fancy 



40 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

just laid down. For in much of our experience we are not con¬ 
cerned with the connection of one incident with what went before 
and what comes after. There is no interest that controls attentive 
rejection or selection of what shall be organized into the develop¬ 
ing experience. Things happen, but they are neither definitely 
included nor decisively excluded; we drift. We yield according to 
external pressure, or evade and compromise. There are begin¬ 
nings and cessations, but no genuine initiations and concludings. 
One thing replaces another, but does not absorb it and carry 
it on. There is experience, but so slack and discursive that it is 
not an experience. Needless to say, such experiences are anes¬ 
thetic. 

Thus the non-esthetic lies within two limits. At one pole 
is the loose succession that does not begin at any particular place 
and that ends—in the sense of ceasing—at no particular place. 
At the other pole is arrest, constriction, proceeding from parts 
having only a mechanical connection with one another. There 
exists so much of one and the other of these two kinds of experi¬ 
ence that unconsciously they come to be taken as norms of all 
experience. Then, when the esthetic appears, it so sharply con¬ 
trasts with the picture that has been formed of experience, that 
it is impossible to combine its special qualities with the features 
of the picture and the esthetic is given an outside place and 
status. The account that has been given of experience dominantly 
intellectual and practical is intended to show that there is no such 
contrast involved in having an experience; that, on the contrary, 
no experience of whatever sort is a unity unless it has esthetic 
quality. 

The enemies of the esthetic are neither the practical nor the 
intellectual. They are the humdrum; slackness of loose ends; sub¬ 
mission to convention in practice and intellectual procedure. Rigid 
abstinence, coerced submission, tightness on one side and dis¬ 
sipation, incoherence and aimless indulgence on the other, are 
deviations in opposite directions from the unity of an experience. 
Some such considerations perhaps induced Aristotle to invoke the 
“mean proportional” as the proper designation of what is dis¬ 
tinctive of both virtue and the esthetic. He was formally correct. 
“Mean” and “proportion” are, however, not self-explanatory, nor 
to be taken over in a prior mathematical sense, but are properties 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


41 


belonging to an experience that has a developing movement to¬ 
ward its own consummation. 

I have emphasized the fact that every integral experience 
moves toward a close, an ending, since it ceases only when the 
energies active in it have done their proper work. This closure 
of a circuit of energy is the opposite of arrest, of stasis. Matura¬ 
tion and fixation are polar opposites. Struggle and conflict may 
be themselves enjoyed, although they are painful, when they are 
experienced as means of developing an experience; members 
in that they carry it forward, not just because they are there. 
There is, as will appear later, an element of undergoing, of 
suffering in its large sense, in every experience. Otherwise there 
would be no taking in of what preceded. For “taking in” in any 
vital experience is something more than placing something on the 
top of consciousness over what was previously known. It involves 
reconstruction which may be painful. Whether the necessary un¬ 
dergoing phase is by itself pleasurable or painful is a matter of 
particular conditions. It is indifferent to the total esthetic quality, 
save that there are few intense esthetic experiences that are wholly 
gleeful. They are certainly not to be characterized as amusing, 
and as they bear down upon us they involve a suffering that is 
none the less consistent with, indeed a part of, the complete per¬ 
ception that is enjoyed. 

I have spoken of the esthetic quality that rounds out an 
experience into completeness and unity as emotional. The refer¬ 
ence may cause difficulty. We are given to thinking of emotions 
as things as simple and compact as are the words by which we 
name them. Joy, sorrow, hope, fear, anger, curiosity, are treated 
as if each in itself were a sort of entity that enters full-made 
upon the scene, an entity that may last a long time or a short 
time, but whose duration, whose growth and career, is irrelevant 
to its nature. In fact emotions are qualities, when they are sig¬ 
nificant, of a complex experience that moves and changes. I say, 
when they are significant, for otherwise they are but the out¬ 
breaks and eruptions of a disturbed infant. All emotions are 
qualifications of a drama and they change as the drama develops. 
Persons are sometimes said to fall in love at first sight. But what 
they fall into is not a thing of that instant. What would love be 
were it compressed into a moment in which there is no room 



42 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


for cherishing and for solicitude? The intimate nature of emotion 
is manifested in the experience of one watching a play on the 
stage or reading a novel. It attends the development of a plot; 
and a plot requires a stage, a space, wherein to develop and time 
in which to unfold. Experience is emotional but there are no 
separate things called emotions in it. 

By the same token, emotions are attached to events and 
objects in their movement. They are not, save in pathological 
instances, private. And even an “objectless” emotion demands 
something beyond itself to which to attach itself, and thus it soon 
generates a delusion in lack of something real. Emotion belongs 
of a certainty to the self. But it belongs to the self that is 
concerned in the movement of events toward an issue that is 
desired or disliked. We jump instantaneously when we are scared, 
as we blush on the instant when we are ashamed. But fright and 
shamed modesty are not in this case emotional states. Of them¬ 
selves they are but automatic reflexes. In order to become emo¬ 
tional they must become parts of an inclusive and enduring 
situation that involves concern for objects and their issues. The 
jump of fright becomes emotional fear when there is found or 
thought to exist a threatening object that must be dealt with 
or escaped from. The blush becomes the emotion of shame when 
a person connects, in thought, an action he has performed with 
an unfavorable reaction to himself of some other person. 

Physical things from far ends of the earth are physically 
transported and physically caused to act and react upon one 
another in the construction of a new object. The miracle of mind’ 
is that something similar takes place in experience without 
physical transport and assembling. Emotion is the moving and 
cementing force. It selects what is congruous and dyes what is 
selected with its color, thereby giving qualitative unity to ma¬ 
terials externally disparate and dissimilar. It thus provides unity 
in and through the varied parts of an experience. When the 
unity is of the sort already described, the experience has 
esthetic character even though it is not, dominantly, an esthetic 
experience. 

Two men meet; one is the applicant for a position, while 
the other has the disposition of the matter in his hands. The 
interview may be mechanical, consisting of set questions, the 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


43 


replies to which perfunctorily settle the matter. There is no ex¬ 
perience in which the two men meet, nothing that is not a 
repetition, by way of acceptance or dismissal, of something which 
has happened a score of times. The situation is disposed of as 
if it were an exercise in bookkeeping. But an interplay may take 
place in which a new experience develops. Where should we look 
for an account of such an experience? Not to ledger-entries nor 
yet to a treatise on economics or sociology or personnel- 
psychology, but to drama or fiction. Its nature and import can 
be expressed only by art, because there is a unity of experience 
that can be expressed only as an experience. The experience 
is of material fraught with suspense and moving toward its own 
consummation through a connected series of varied incidents. 
The primary emotions on the part of the applicant may be at 
the beginning hope or despair, and elation or disappointment at 
the close. These emotions qualify the experience as a unity. But 
as the interview proceeds, secondary emotions are evolved as 
variations of the primary underlying one. It is even possible for 
each attitude and gesture, each sentence, almost e\ ery word, to 
produce more than a fluctuation in the intensity of the basic 
emotion; to produce, that is, a change of shade and tint in its 
quality. The employer sees by means of his own emotional re¬ 
actions the character of the one applying. He projects him 
imaginatively into the work to be done and judges his fitness by 
the way in which the elements of the scene assemble and either 
dash or fit together. The presence and behavior of the applicant 
either harmonize with his own attitudes and desires or they 
conflict and jar. Such factors as these, inherently esthetic in 
quality, are the forces that carry the varied elements of the inter¬ 
view to a decisive issue. They enter into the settlement of every 
situation, whatever its dominant nature, in which there are un¬ 
certainty and suspense. 


THERE are, therefore, common patterns in various experiences, 
no matter how unlike they are to one another in the details of 
their subject matter. There are conditions to be met without 
which an experience cannot come to be. The outline of the com¬ 
mon pattern is set by the fact that every experience is the result 



44 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of interaction between a live creature and some aspect of the 
world in which he lives. A man does something; he lifts, let us 
say, a stone. In consequence he undergoes, suffers, something: 
the weight, strain, texture of the surface of the thing lifted. The 
properties thus undergone determine further doing. The stone is 
too heavy or too angular, not solid enough; or else the properties 
undergone show it is fit for the use for which it is intended. The 
process continues until a mutual adaptation of the self and the 
object emerges and that particular experience comes to a close. 
What is true of this simple instance is true, as to form, of every 
experience. The creature operating may be a thinker in his study 
and the environment with which he interacts may consist of ideas 
instead of a stone. But interaction of the two constitutes the 
total experience that is had, and the close which completes it is 
the institution of a felt harmony. 

An experience has pattern and structure, because it is not 
just doing and undergoing in alternation, but consists of them 
in relationship. To put one’s hand in the fire that consumes it is 
not necessarily to have an experience. The action and its conse¬ 
quence must be joined in perception. This relationship is what 
gives meaning; to grasp it is the objective of all intelligence. The 
scope and content of the relations measure the significant 
content of an experience. A child’s experience may be intense, 
but, because of lack of background from past experience, relations 
between undergoing and doing are slightly grasped, and the ex¬ 
perience does not have great depth or breadth. No one ever 
arrives at such maturity that he perceives all the connections 
that are involved. There was once written (by Mr. Hinton) a 
romance called “The Unlearner.” It portrayed the whole endless 
duration of life after death as a living over of the incidents that 
happened in a short life on earth, in continued discovery of the 
relationships involved among them. 

Experience is limited by all the causes which interfere 
with perception of the relations between undergoing and doing. 
There may be interference because of excess on the side of doing 
or of excess on the side of receptivity, of undergoing. Unbalance 
on either side blurs the perception of relations and leaves the 
experience partial and distorted, with scant or false meaning. 
Zeal for doing, lust for action, leaves many a person, especially 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 45 

in this hurried and impatient human environment in which we 
live, with experience of an almost incredible paucity, all on the 
surface. No one experience has a chance to complete itself be¬ 
cause something else is entered upon so speedily. What is called 
experience becomes so dispersed and miscellaneous as hardly to 
deserve the name. Resistance is treated as an obstruction to be 
beaten down, not as an invitation to reflection. An individual 
comes to seek, unconsciously even more than by deliberate choice, 
situations in which he can do the most things in the shortest time. 

Experiences are also cut short from maturing by excess 
of receptivity. What is prized is then the mere undergoing of this 
and that, irrespective of perception of any meaning. The crowding 
together of as many impressions as possible is thought to be 
“life,” even though no one of them is more than a flitting and a 
sipping. The sentimentalist and the day-dreamer may have more 
fancies and impressions pass through their consciousness than 
has the man who is animated by lust for action. But his experi¬ 
ence is equally distorted, because nothing takes root in mind 
when there is no balance between doing and receiving. Some 
decisive action Is needed in order to establish contact with the 
realities of the world and in order that impressions may be so 
related to facts that their value is tested and organized. 

Because perception of relationship between what is done 
and what is undergone constitutes the work of intelligence, and 
because the artist is controlled in the process of his work by his 
grasp of the connection between what he has already done and 
what he is to do next, the idea that the artist does not think 
as intently and penetratingly as a scientific inquirer is absurd. 
A painter must consciously undergo the effect of his every brush 
stroke or he will not be aware of what he is doing and where his 
work is going. Moreover, he has to see each particular connection 
of doing and undergoing in relation to the whole that he desires to 
produce. To apprehend such relations is to think, and is one of the 
most exacting modes of thought. The difference between the pic¬ 
tures of different painters is due quite as much to differences of 
capacity to carry on this thought as it is to differences of sen¬ 
sitivity to bare color and to differences in dexterity of execution. 
As respects the basic quality of pictures, difference depends, In¬ 
deed, more upon the quality of intelligence brought to bear upon 



46 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


perception of relations than upon anything else—though of 
course intelligence cannot be separated from direct sensitivity 
and is connected, though in a more external manner, with 
skill. 

Any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence 
in production of works of art is based upon identification of 
thinking with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs 
and words. To think effectively in terms of relations of qualities 
is as severe a demand upon thought as to think in terms of 
symbols, verbal and mathematical. Indeed, since words are easily 
manipulated in mechanical ways, the production of a work of 
genuine art probably demands more intelligence than does most 
of the so-called thinking that goes on among those who pride 
themselves on being “intellectuals.” 


I HAVE tried to show in these chapters that the esthetic is no 
intruder in experience from without, whether by way of idle 
luxury or transcendent ideality, but that it is the clarified and 
intensified development of traits that belong to every normally 
complete experience. This fact I take to be the only secure basis 
upon which esthetic theory can build. It remains to suggest some 
of the implications of the underlying fact. 

We have no word in the English language that unam¬ 
biguously includes what is signified by the two words “artistic*’ 
and “esthetic.” Since “artistic” refers primarily to the act of 
production and “esthetic” to that of perception and enjoyment, 
the absence of a term designating the two processes taken to¬ 
gether is unfortunate. Sometimes, the effect is to separate the 
two from each other, to regard art as something superimposed 
upon esthetic material, or, upon the other side, to an assumption 
that, since art is a process of creation, perception and enjoyment 
of it have nothing in common with the creative act. In any case, 
there is a certain verbal awkwardness in that we are compelled 
sometimes to use the term “esthetic” to cover the entire field and 
sometimes to limit it to the receiving perceptual aspect of the 
whole operation. I refer to these obvious facts as preliminary 
to an attempt to show how the conception of conscious experience 
as a perceived relation between doing and undergoing enables 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


47 


us to understand the connection that art as production and per¬ 
ception and appreciation as enjoyment sustain to each other. 

Art denotes a process of doing or making. This is as true 
of fine as of technological art. Art involves molding of clay, 
chipping of marble, casting of bronze, laying on of pigments, 
construction of buildings, singing of songs, playing of instru¬ 
ments, enacting roles on the stage, going through rhythmic move¬ 
ments in the dance. Every art does something with some physical 
material, the body or something outside the body, with or without 
the use of intervening tools, and with a view to production of 
something visible, audible, or tangible. So marked is the active 
or “doing” phase of art, that the dictionaries usually define it 
in terms of skilled action, ability in execution. The Oxford Dic¬ 
tionary illustrates by a quotation from John Stuart Mill; “Art 
is an endeavor after perfection in execution” while Matthew 
Arnold calls it “pure and flawless workmanship.” 

The word “esthetic” refers, as we have already noted, to 
experience as appreciative, perceiving, and enjoying. It denotes 
the consumer’s rather than the producer’s standpoint. It is Gusto, 
taste; and, as with cooking, overt skillful action is on the side 
of the cook who prepares, while taste is on the side of the con¬ 
sumer, as in gardening there is a distinction between the gardener 
who plants and tills and the householder who enjoys the finished 
product. 

These very illustrations, however, as well as the relation 
that exists in having an experience between doing and undergoing, 
indicate that the distinction between esthetic and artistic cannot 
be pressed so far as to become a separation. Perfection in execu¬ 
tion cannot be measured or defined in terms of execution; it 
implies those who perceive and enjoy the product that is executed. 
The cook prepares food for the consumer and the measure of 
the value of what is prepared is found in consumption. Mere 
perfection in execution, judged in its own terms in isolation, can 
probably be attained better by a machine than by human art. 
By itself, it is at most technique, and there are great artists who 
are not in the first ranks as technicians (witness Cezanne), just 
as there are great performers on the piano who are not great 
esthetically, and as Sargent is not a great painter. 

Craftsmanship to be artistic in the final sense must be 



48 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


“loving”; it must care deeply for the subject matter upon which 
skill is exercised. A sculptor comes to mind whose busts are 
marvelously exact. It might be difficult to tell in the presence of 
a photograph of one of them and of a photograph of the original 
which was of the person himself. For virtuosity they are remark¬ 
able. But one doubts whether the maker of the busts had an 
experience of his own that he was concerned to have those 
share who look at his products. To be truly artistic, a work must 
also be esthetic—that is, framed for enjoyed receptive perception. 
Constant observation is, of course, necessary for the maker while 
he is producing. But if his perception is not also esthetic in nature, 
it is a colorless and cold recognition of what has been done, used 
as a stimulus to the next step in a process that is essentially 
mechanical. 

In short, art, in its form, unites the very same relation 
of doing and undergoing, outgoing and incoming energy, that 
makes an experience to be an experience. Because of elimination 
of all that does not contribute to mutual organization of the 
factors of both action and reception into one another, and because 
of selection of just the aspects and traits that contribute to their 
interpenetration of each other, the product is a work of esthetic 
art. Man whittles, carves, sings, dances, gestures, molds, draws 
and paints. The doing or making is artistic when the perceived 
result is of such a nature that its qualities as perceived have con¬ 
trolled the question of production. The act of producing that is 
directed by intent to produce something that is enjoyed in the 
immediate experience of perceiving has qualities that a spon¬ 
taneous or uncontrolled activity does not have. The artist em¬ 
bodies in himself the attitude of the perceiver while he works. 

Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that a finely wrought 
object, one whose texture and proportions are highly pleasing in 
perception, has been believed to be a product of some primitive 
people. Then there is discovered evidence that proves it to be an 
accidental natural product. As an external thing, it is now pre¬ 
cisely what it was before. Yet at once it ceases to be a work 
of art and becomes a natural “curiosity.” It now belongs in a 
museum of natural history, not in a museum of art. And the 
extraordinary thing is that the difference that is thus made is not 
one of just intellectual classification. A difference is made in 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


49 


appreciative perception and in a direct way. The esthetic ex¬ 
perience—in its limited sense—is thus seen to be inherently 
connected with the experience of making. 

The sensory satisfaction of eye and ear, when esthetic, is 
so because it does not stand by itself but is linked to the activity 
of which it is the consequence. Even the pleasures of the palate 
are different in quality to an epicure than in one who merely 
“likes” his food as he eats it. The difference is not of mere 
intensity. The epicure is conscious of much more than the taste 
of the food. Rather, there enter into the taste, as directly ex¬ 
perienced, qualities that depend upon reference to its source and 
its manner of production in connection with criteria of excellence. 
As production must absorb into itself qualities of the product as 
perceived and be regulated by them, so, on the other side, seeing, 
hearing, tasting, become esthetic when relation to a distinct 
manner of activity qualifies what is perceived. 

There is an element of passion in all esthetic perception. 
Yet when we are overwhelmed by passion, as in extreme rage, 
fear, jealousy, the experience is definitely non-esthetic. There is 
no relationship felt to the qualities of the activity that has 
generated the passion. Consequently, the material of the experi¬ 
ence lacks elements of balance and proportion. For these can be 
present only when, as in the conduct that has grace or dignity, 
the act is controlled by an exquisite sense of the relations which 
the act sustains—its fitness to the occasion and to the situation. 

The process of art in production is related to the esthetic 
in perception organically—as the Lord God in creation surveyed 
his work and found it good. Until the artist is satisfied in per¬ 
ception with what he is doing, he continues shaping and reshaping. 
The making comes to an end when its result is experienced as 
good—and that experience comes not by mere intellectual and 
outside judgment but in direct perception. An artist, in compari¬ 
son with his fellows, is one who is not only especially gifted in 
powers of execution but in unusual sensitivity to the qualities 
of things. This sensitivity also directs his doings and makings. 

As we manipulate, we touch and feel, as we look, we see; 
as we listen, we hear. The hand moves with etching needle or 
with brush. The eye attends and reports the consequence of what 
is done. Because of this intimate connection, subsequent doing 



50 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


is cumulative and not a matter of caprice nor yet of routine. In 
an emphatic artistic-esthetic experience, the relation is so dose 
that it controls simultaneously both the doing and the perception. 
Such vital intimacy of connection cannot be had if only hand and 
eye are engaged. When they do not, both of them, act as organs 
of the whole being, there is but a mechanical sequence of sense 
and movement, as in walking that is automatic. Hand and eye, 
when the experience is esthetic, are but instruments through 
which the entire live creature, moved and active throughout, 
operates. Hence the expression is emotional and guided by 
purpose. 

Because of the relation between what is done and what is 
undergone, there is an immediate sense of things in perception 
as belonging together or as jarring; as reenforcing or as interfer¬ 
ing. The consequences of the act of making as reported in sense 
show whether what is done carries forward the idea being exe¬ 
cuted or marks a deviation and break. In as far as the develop¬ 
ment of an experience is controlled through reference to these 
immediately felt relations of order and fulfillment, that experience 
becomes dominantly esthetic in nature. The urge to action be¬ 
comes an urge to that kind of action which will result in an object 
satisfying in direct perception. The potter shapes his clay to 
make a bowl useful for holding grain; but he makes it in a way 
so regulated by the series of perceptions that sum up the serial 
acts of making, that the bowl is marked by enduring grace and 
charm. The general situation remains the same in painting a 
picture or molding a bust. Moreover, at each stage there is 
anticipation of what is to come. This anticipation is the connect¬ 
ing link between the next doing and its outcome for sense. What 
is done and what is undergone are thus reciprocally, cumulatively, 
and continuously instrumental to each other. 

The doing may be energetic, and the undergoing may be 
acute and intense. But unless they are related to each other to 
form a whole in perception, the thing done is not fully esthetic. 
The making for example may be a display of technical virtuosity, 
and the undergoing a gush of sentiment or a revery. If the artist 
does not perfect a new vision in his process of doing, he acts 
mechanically and repeats some old model fixed like a blue print 
in his mind. An incredible amount of observation and of the kind 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


51 


of intelligence that is exercised in perception of qualitative re¬ 
lations characterizes creative work in art. The relations must be 
noted not only with respect to one another, two by two, but in con¬ 
nection with the whole under construction; they are exercised in 
imagination as well as in observation. Irrelevancies arise that are 
tempting distractions; digressions suggest themselves in the guise 
of enrichments. There are occasions when the grasp of the 
dominant idea grows faint, and then the artist is moved uncon¬ 
sciously to fill in until his thought grows strong again. The real 
work of an artist is to build up an experience that is coherent 
in perception while moving with constant change in its develop¬ 
ment. 

When an author puts on paper ideas that are already 
clearly conceived and consistently ordered, the real work has 
been previously done. Or, he may depend upon the greater per¬ 
ceptibility induced by the activity and its sensible report to direct 
his completion of the work. The mere act of transcription is 
esthetically irrelevant save as it enters integrally into the forma¬ 
tion of an experience moving to completeness. Even the com¬ 
position conceived in the head and, therefore, physically private, 
is public in its significant content, since it is conceived with 
reference to execution in a product that is perceptible and hence 
belongs to the common world. Otherwise it would be an aberra¬ 
tion or a passing dream. The urge to express through painting 
the perceived qualities of a landscape is continuous with demand 
for pencil or brush. Without external embodiment, an experience 
remains incomplete; physiologically and functionally, sense or¬ 
gans are motor organs and are connected, by means of distribution 
of energies in the human body and not merely anatomically, 
with other motor organs. It is no linguistic accident that “build¬ 
ing,” “construction,” “work,” designate both a process and its 
finished product. Without the meaning of the verb that of the 
noun remains blank. 

Writer, composer of music, sculptor, or painter can re¬ 
trace, during the process of production, what they have pre¬ 
viously done. When it is not satisfactory in the undergoing or 
perceptual phase of experience, they can to some degree start 
afresh. This retracing is not readily accomplished in the case of 
architecture—which is perhaps one reason why there are so many 



52 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


ugly buildings. Architects are obliged to complete their idea 
before its translation into a complete object of perception takes 
place. Inability to build up simultaneously the idea and its ob¬ 
jective embodiment imposes a handicap. Nevertheless, they too 
are obliged to think out their ideas in terms of the medium of 
embodiment and the object of ultimate perception unless they 
work mechanically and by rote. Probably the esthetic quality of 
medieval cathedrals is due in some measure to the fact that their 
constructions were not so much controlled by plans and specifica¬ 
tions made in advance as is now the case. Plans grew as the 
building grew. But even a Minerva-like product, if it is artistic, 
presupposes a prior period of gestation in which doings and per¬ 
ceptions projected in imagination interact and mutually modify 
one another. Every work of art follows the plan of, and pattern 
of, a complete experience, rendering it more intensely and con- 
centratedly felt. 

It is not so easy in the case of the perceiver and appre- 
ciator to understand the intimate union of doing and undergoing 
as it is in the case of the maker. We are given to supposing that 
the former merely takes in what is there in finished form, instead 
of realizing that this taking in involves activities that are com¬ 
parable to those of the creator. But receptivity is not passivity. 
It, too, is a process consisting of a series of responsive acts that 
accumulate toward objective fulfillment. Otherwise, there is not 
perception but recognition. The difference between the two is 
immense. Recognition is perception arrested before it has a chance 
to develop freely. In recognition there is a beginning of an act 
of perception. But this beginning is not allowed to serve the 
development of a full perception of the thing recognized. It is 
arrested at the point where it will serve some other purpose, as 
we recognize a man on the street in order to greet or to avoid 
him, not so as to see him for the sake of seeing what is there. 

In recognition we fall back, as upon a stereotype, upon 
some previously formed scheme. Some detail or arrangement of 
details serves as cue for bare identification. It suffices in recogni¬ 
tion to apply this bare outline as a stencil to the present object. 
Sometimes in contact with a human being we are struck with 
traits, perhaps of only physical characteristics, of which we were 
not nreviously aware. We realize that we never knew the person 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 53 

before; we had not seen him in any pregnant sense. We now 
begin to study and to “take in.” Perception replaces bare recog¬ 
nition. There is an act of reconstructive doing* and consciousness 
becomes fresh and alive. This act of seeing involves the co¬ 
operation of motor elements even though they remain implicit 
and do not become overt, as well as cooperation of all funded 
ideas that may serve to complete the new picture that is forming. 
Recognition is too easy to arouse vivid consciousness. There is 
not enough resistance between new and old to secure conscious¬ 
ness of the experience that is had. Even a dog that barks and 
wags his tail joyously on seeing his master return is more fully 
alive in his reception of his friend than is a human being who is 
content with mere recognition. 

Bare recognition is satisfied when a proper tag or label is 
attached, “proper” signifying one that serves a purpose outside 
the act of recognition—as a salesman identifies wares by a 
sample. It involves no stir of the organism, no inner commotion. 
But an act of perception proceeds by waves that extend serially 
throughout the entire organism. There is, therefore, no such thing 
in perception as seeing or hearing plus emotion. The perceived 
object or scene is emotionally pervaded throughout. When an 
aroused emotion does not permeate the material that is perceived 
or thought of, it is either preliminary or pathological* 

The esthetic or undergoing phase of experience is recep¬ 
tive. It involves surrender. But adequate yielding of the self is 
possibly only through a controlled activity that may well be in¬ 
tense. In much of our intercourse with our surroundings we with¬ 
draw; sometimes from fear, if only of expending unduly our store 
of energy; sometimes from preoccupation with other matters, 
as in the case of recognition. Perception is an act of the going-out 
of energy in order to receive, not a withholding of energy. To steep 
ourselves in a subject-matter we have first to plunge into it. 
When we are only passive to a scene, it overwhelms us and, for 
lack of answering activity, we do not perceive that which bears 
us down. We must summon energy and pitch it at a responsive 
key in order to take in. 

Every one knows that it requires apprenticeship to see 
through a microscope or telescope, and to see a landscape as the 
geologist sees it. The idea that esthetic perception is an affair 



54 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


for odd moments is one reason for the backwardness of the arts 
among us. The eye and the visual apparatus may be intact; the 
object may be physically there, the cathedral of Notre Dame, or 
Rembrandts portrait of Hendrik Stoeffel. In some bald sense, 
the latter may be “seen.” They may be looked at, possibly recog¬ 
nized, and have their correct names attached. But for lack of 
continuous interaction between the total organism and the objects, 
they are not perceived, certainly not esthetically. A crowd of 
visitors steered through a picture-gallery by a guide, with atten¬ 
tion called here and there to some high point, does not perceive; 
only by accident is there even interest in seeing a picture for the 
sake of subject matter vividly realized. 

For to perceive, a beholder must create his own experi¬ 
ence. And his creation must include relations comparable to those 
which the original producer underwent. They are not the same 
in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist, 
there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in 
form, although not in details, the same as the process of organi¬ 
zation the creator of the work consciously experienced. Without 
an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art. 
The artist selected, simplified, clarified, abridged and condensed 
according to his interest. The beholder must go through these 
operations according to his point of view and interest. In both, 
an act of abstraction, that is of extraction of what is significant, 
takes place. In both, there is comprehension in its literal signifi¬ 
cation—that is, a gathering together of details and particulars 
physically scattered into an experienced whole. There is work 
done on the part of the percipient as there is on the part of the 
artist. The one who is too lazy, idle, or indurated in convention 
to perform this work will not see or hear. His “appreciation” 
will be a mixture of scraps of learning with conformity to norms 
of conventional admiration and with a confused, even if genuine, 
emotional excitation. 


THE considerations that have been presented imply both the 
community and the unlikeness, because of specific emphasis, of 
an experience, in its pregnant sense, and esthetic experience. The 
former has esthetic quality; otherwise its materials would not be 



HAVING AN EXPERIENCE 


55 


rounded out into a single coherent experience. It is not possible 
to divide in a vital experience the practical, emotional, and in¬ 
tellectual from one another and to set the properties of one over 
against the characteristics of the others. The emotional phase 
binds parts together into a single whole; “intellectual” simply 
names the fact that the experience has meaning; “practical” indi¬ 
cates that the organism is interacting with events and objects 
which surround it. The most elaborate philosophic or scientific 
inquiry and the most ambitious industrial or political enterprise 
has, when its different ingredients constitute an integral experi¬ 
ence, esthetic quality. For then its varied parts are linked to one 
another, and do not merely succeed one another. And the parts 
through their experienced linkage move toward a consummation 
and close, not merely to cessation in time. This consummation, 
moreover, does not wait in consciousness for the whole under¬ 
taking to be finished. It is anticipated throughout and is recur¬ 
rently savored with special intensity. 

Nevertheless, the experiences in question are dominantly 
intellectual or practical, rather than distinctively esthetic, be¬ 
cause of the interest and purpose that initiate and control them. 
In an intellectual experience, the conclusion has value on its own 
account. It can be extracted as a formula or as a “truth,” and 
can be used in its independent entirety as factor and guide in 
other inquiries. In a work of art there is no such single self- 
sufficient deposit. The end, the terminus, is significant not by 
itself but as the integration of the parts. It has no other existence. 
A drama or novel is not the final sentence, even if the char¬ 
acters are disposed of as living happily ever after. In a distinc¬ 
tively esthetic experience, characteristics that are subdued in 
other experiences are dominant; those that are subordinate are 
controlling—namely, the characteristics in virtue of which the 
experience is an integrated complete experience on its own 
account. 

In every integral experience there is form because there is 
dynamic organization. I call the organization dynamic because 
it takes time to complete it, because it is a growth. There is 
inception, development, fulfillment. Material is ingested and 
digested through interaction with that vital organization of the 
results of prior experience that constitutes the mind of the 



56 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


worker. Incubation goes on until what is conceived is brought 
forth and is rendered perceptible as part of the common world. 
An esthetic experience can be crowded into a moment only in the 
sense that a climax of prior long enduring processes may arrive 
in an outstanding movement which so sweeps everything else into 
it that all else is forgotten. That which distinguishes an experi¬ 
ence as esthetic is conversion of resistance and tensions, of excita¬ 
tions that in themselves are temptations to diversion, into a 
movement toward an inclusive and fulfilling close. 

Experiencing like breathing is a rhythm of intakings and 
outgivings. Their succession is punctuated and made a rhythm by 
the existence of intervals, periods in which one phase is ceasing 
and the other is inchoate and preparing. William James aptly 
compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate 
flights and perchings of a bird. The flights and perchings are 
intimately connected with one another; they are not so many 
unrelated lightings succeeded by a number of equally unrelated 
hoppings. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in 
which is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior 
doing, and, unless the doing is that of utter caprice or sheer 
routine, each doing carries in itself meaning that has been ex¬ 
tracted and conserved. As with the advance of an army, all gains 
from what has been already effected are periodically consolidated, 
and always with a view to what is to be done next. If we move 
too rapidly, we get away' from the base of supplies—of accrued 
meanings—and the experience is flustered, thin, and confused. If 
we dawdle too long after having extracted a net value, experience 
perishes of inanition. 

The form of the whole is therefore present in every mem¬ 
ber. Fulfilling, consummating, are continuous functions, not mere 
ends, located at one place only. An engraver, painter, or writer is 
in process of completing at every stage of his work. He must at 
each point retain and sum up what has gone before as a whole 
and with reference to a whole to come. Otherwise there is no 
consistency and no security in his successive acts. The series of 
doings in the rhythm of experience give variety and movement; 
they save the work from monotony and useless repetitions. The 
undergoings are the corresponding elements in the rhythm, and 
they supply unity; they save the work from the aimlessness of a 



H WING AN EXPERIENCE 


57 


mere succession of excitations. An object is peculiarly and 
dominantly esthetic, yielding the enjoyment characteristic of 
esthetic perception, when the factors that determine anything 
which can be called an experience are lifted high above the 
threshold of perception and are made manifest for their own sake. 



CHAPTER IV 


THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


E VERY experience, of slight or tremendous import, begins with 
an impulsion, rather as an impulsion. I say “impulsion” rather 
than “impulse.” An impulse is specialized and particular; it is, 
even when instinctive, simply a part of the mechanism involved 
in a more complete adaptation with the environment. “Impulsion” 
designates a movement outward and forward of the whole or¬ 
ganism to which special impulses are auxiliary. It is the craving 
of the living creature for food as distinct from the reactions of 
tongue and lips that are involved in swallowing; the turning 
toward light of the body as a whole, like the heliotropism of 
plants, as distinct from the following of a particular light by 
the eyes. 

Because it is the movement of the organism in its entirety, 
impulsion is the initial stage of any complete experience. Observa¬ 
tion of children discovers many specialized reactions. But they 
are not, therefore, inceptive of complete experiences. They enter 
into the latter only as they are woven as strands into an activity 
that calls the whole self into play. Overlooking these generalized 
activities and paying attention only to the differentiations, the 
divisions of labor, which render them more efficient, are pretty 
much the source and cause of all further errors in the interpreta¬ 
tion of experience. 

Impulsions are the beginnings of complete experience be¬ 
cause they proceed from need; from a hunger and demand that 
belongs to the organism as a whole and that can be supplied only 
by instituting definite relations (active relations, interactions) 
with the environment. The epidermis is only in the most super¬ 
ficial way an indication of where an organism ends and its en¬ 
vironment begins. There are things inside the body that are 
foreign to it, and there are things outside of it that belong to it 
de jure, if not de facto; that must, that is, be taken possession 

58 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


5 ? 


of if life is to continue. On the lower scale, air and food materials 
are such things; on the higher, tools, whether the pen of the 
writer or the anvil of the blacksmith, utensils and furnishings, 
property, friends and institutions—all the supports and suste¬ 
nances without which a civilized life cannot be. The need that is 
manifest in the urgent impulsions that demand completion 
through what the environment—and it alone—can supply, is a 
dynamic acknowledgment of this dependence of the self for 
wholeness upon its surroundings. 

It is the fate of a living creature, however, that it cannot 
secure what belongs to it without an adventure in a world that 
as a whole it does not own and to which it has no native title. 
Whenever the organic impulse exceeds the limit of the body, it 
finds itself in a strange world and commits in some measure the 
fortune of the self to external circumstance. It cannot pick just 
what it wants and automatically leave the indifferent and adverse 
out of account. If, and as far as, the organism continues to 
develop, it is helped on as a favoring wind helps the runner. 
But the impulsion also meets many things on its outbound course 
that deflect and oppose it. In the process of converting these 
obstacles and neutral conditions into favoring agencies, the live 
creature becomes aware of the intent implicit in its impulsion. The 
self, whether it succeed or fail, does not merely restore itself to 
its former state. Blind surge has been changed into a purpose; 
instinctive tendencies are transformed into contrived undertak¬ 
ings. The attitudes of the self are informed with meaning. 

An environment that was always and everywhere con¬ 
genial to the straightaway execution of our impulsions would set 
a term to growth as surely as one always hostile would irritate 
and destroy. Impulsion forever boosted on its forward way would 
run its course thoughtless, and dead to emotion. For it would not 
have to give an account of itself in terms of the things it en¬ 
counters, and hence they would not become significant objects. 
The. only way it can become aware of its nature and its goal is 
by obstacles surmounted and means employed; means which are 
only means from the very beginning are too much one with an 
impulsion, on a way smoothed and oiled in advance, to permit of 
consciousness of them. Nor without resistance from surroundings 
would the self become aware of itself; it would have neither 



60 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

feeling nor interest, neither fear nor hope, neither disappointment 
nor elation. Mere opposition that completely thwarts, creates irri¬ 
tation and rage. But resistance that calls out thought generates 
curiosity and solicitous care, and, when it is overcome and utilized, 
eventuates in elation. 

That which merely discourages a child and one who lacks 
a matured background of relevant experiences is an incitement to 
intelligence to plan and convert emotion into interest, on the 
part of those who have previously had experiences of situations 
sufficiently akin to be drawn upon. Impulsion from need starts 
an experience that does not know where it is going; resistance 
and check bring about the conversion of direct forward action 
into re-flection; what is turned back upon is the relation of hin¬ 
dering conditions to what the self possesses as working capital 
in virtue of prior experiences. As the energies thus involved re¬ 
enforce the original impulsion, this operates more circumspectly 
with insight into end and method. Such is the outline of every 
experience that is clothed with meaning. 

That tension calls out energy and that total lack of 
opposition does not favor normal development are familiar facts. 
In a general way, we all recognize that a balance between fur¬ 
thering and retarding conditions is the desirable state of affairs— 
provided that the adverse conditions bear intrinsic relation to 
what they obstruct instead of being arbitrary and extraneous. 
Yet what is evoked is not just quantitative, or just more energy, 
but is qualitative, a transformation of energy into thoughtful 
action, through assimilation of meanings from the background of 
past experiences. The junction of the new and old is not a mere 
composition of forces, but is a re-creation in which the present 
impulsion gets form and solidity while the old, the “stored,” 
material is literally revived, given new life and soul through 
having to meet a new situation. 


IT is this double change which converts an activity into an 
act of expression. Things in the environment that would other¬ 
wise be mere smooth channels or else blind obstructions become 
means, media. At the same time, things retained from past ex¬ 
perience that would grow stale from routine or inert from lack 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


61 


o! use, become coefficients in new adventures and put on a raiment 
of fresh meaning. Here are all the elements needed to define 
expression. The definition will gain force if the traits mentioned 
are made explicit by contrast with alternative situations. Not all 
outgoing activity is of the nature of expression. At one extreme, 
there are storms of passion that break through barriers and that 
sweep away whatever intervenes between a person and something 
he would destroy. There is activity, but not, from the standpoint 
of the one acting, expression. An onlooker may say “What a 
magnificent expression of rage!” But the enraged being is only 
raging, quite a different matter from expressing rage. Or, again, 
some spectator may say “How that man is expressing his own 
dominant character in what he is doing or saying.” But the last 
thing the man in question is thinking of is to express his char* 
acter; he is only giving way to a fit of passion. Again the cry or 
smile of an infant may be expressive to mother or nurse and yet 
not be an act of expression of the baby. To the onlooker it is an 
expression because it tells something about the state of the child. 
But the child is only engaged in doing something directly, no 
more expressive from his standpoint than is breathing or sneezing 
—activities that are also expressive to the observer of the infant’s 
condition. 

Generalization of such instances will protect us from the 
error—which has unfortunately invaded esthetic theory—of sup¬ 
posing that the mere giving way to an impulsion, native or 
habitual, constitutes expression. Such an act is expressive not 
in itself but only in reflective interpretation on the part of 
some observer—as the nurse may interpret a sneeze as the sign 
of an impending cold. As far as the act itself is concerned, it is, if 
purely impulsive, just a boiling over. While there is no expression, 
unless there is urge from within outwards, the welling up must 
be clarified and ordered by taking into itself the values of prior 
experiences before it can be an act of expression. And these 
values are not called into play save through objects of the en¬ 
vironment that offer resistance to the direct discharge of emotion 
and impulse. Emotional discharge is a necessary but not a suffi¬ 
cient condition of expression. 

There is no expression without excitement, without tur¬ 
moil. Yet an inner agitation that is discharged at once in a laugh 



62 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


or cry, passes away with its utterance. To discharge is to get rid 
of, to dismiss; to express is to stay by, to carry forward in 
development, to work out to completion. A gush of tears may 
bring relief, a spasm of destruction may give outlet to inward 
rage. But where there is no administration of objective conditions, 
no shaping of materials in the interest of embodying the excite¬ 
ment, there is no expression. What is sometimes called an act of 
self-expression might better be termed one of self-exposure; it 
discloses character—or lack of character—to others. In itself, 
it is only a spewing forth. 

The transition from an act that is expressive from the 
standpoint of an outside observer to one intrinsically expressive is 
readily illustrated by a simple case. At first a baby weeps, just 
as it turns its head to follow light; there is an inner urge but 
nothing to express. As the infant matures, he learns that par¬ 
ticular acts effect different consequences, that, for example, he 
gets attention if he cries, and that smiling induces another definite 
response from those about him. He thus begins to be aware of 
the meaning of what he does. As he grasps the meaning of an act 
at first performed from sheer internal pressure, he becomes ca¬ 
pable of acts of true expression. The transformation of sounds, 
babblings, lalling, and so forth, into language is a perfect illustra¬ 
tion of the way in which acts of expression are brought into 
existence and also of the difference between them and mere acts 
of discharge. 

There is suggested, if not exactly exemplified, in such 
cases the connection of expression with art. The child who has 
learned the effect his once spontaneous act has upon those around 
him performs "on purpose” an act that was blind. He begins to 
manage and order his activities in reference to their consequences. 
The consequences undergone because of doing are incorporated 
as the meaning of subsequent doings because the relation between 
doing and undergoing is perceived. The child may now cry for a 
purpose, because he wants attention or relief. He may begin to 
bestow his smiles as inducements or as favors. There is now art 
in indpiency. An activity that was "natural”—spontaneous and 
unintended—is transformed because it is undertaken as a means 
to a consdously entertained consequence. Such transformation 
marks every deed of art. The result of the transformation may 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


63 


be artful rather than esthetic. The fawning smile and conventional 
smirk of greeting are artifices. But the genuinely gracious act of 
welcome contains also a change of an attitude that was once a 
bliiid and “natural” manifestation of impulsion into an act of art, 
something performed in view of its place or relation in the 
processes of intimate human intercourse. 

The difference between the artificial, the artful, and the 
artistic lies on the surface. In the former there is a split between 
what is overtly done and what is intended. The appearance is 
one of cordiality; the intent is that of gaining favor. Wherever 
this split between what is done and its purpose exists, there is 
insincerity, a trick, a simulation of an act that intrinsically has 
another effect. When the natural and the cultivated blend in one, 
acts of social intercourse are works of art. The animating im¬ 
pulsion of genial friendship and the deed performed completely 
coincide without intrusion of ulterior purpose. Awkwardness may 
prevent adequacy of expression. But the skillful counterfeit, how¬ 
ever skilled, goes through the form of expression; it does not 
have the form of friendship and abide in it. The substance of 
friendship is untouched. 

An act of discharge or mere exhibition lacks a medium. 
Instinctive crying and smiling no more require a medium than do 
sneezing and winking. They occur through some channel, but the 
means of outlet are not used as immanent means of an end. The 
act that expresses welcome uses the smile, the outreached hand, 
the lighting up of the face as media, not consciously but because 
they have become organic means of communicating delight upon 
meeting a valued friend. Acts that were primitively spontaneous 
are converted into means that make human intercourse more rich 
and gracious—just as a painter converts pigment into means of 
expressing an imaginative experience. Dance and sport are activi¬ 
ties in which acts once performed spontaneously in separation are 
assembled and converted from raw, crude material into works 
of expressive art. Only where material is employed as media is 
there expression and art. Savage taboos that look to the outsider 
like mere prohibitions and inhibitions externally imposed may 
be to those who experience them media of expressing social status, 
dignity, and honor. Everything depends upon the way in which 
material is used when it operates as medium. 



M 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


The connection between a medium and the act of expres¬ 
sion is intrinsic. An act of expression always employs natural 
material, though it may be natural in the sense of habitual as well 
Co m that of primitive or native. It becomes a medium when it is 
employed in view of its place and r6Ie, in its relations, an inclusive 
situation—as tones become music when ordered in a melody. The 
same tones might be uttered in connection with an attitude of joy, 
surprise, or sadness, and be natural outlets of particular feelings. 
They are expressive of one of these emotions when other tones 
are the medium in which one of them occurs. 

Etymologically, an act of expression is a squeezing out, a 
pressing forth. Juice is expressed when grapes are crushed in the 
wine press; to use a more prosaic comparison, lard and oil are 
rendered when certain fats are subjected to heat and pressure. 
Nothing is pressed forth except from original raw or natural 
material. But it is equally true that the mere issuing forth or 
discharge of raw material is not expression. Through interaction 
with something external to it, the wine press, or the treading foot 
of man, juice results. Skin and seeds are separated and retained; 
only when the apparatus is defective are they discharged. Even 
in the most mechanical modes of expression there is interaction 
and a consequent transformation of the primitive material which 
stands as raw material for a product of art, in relation to what is 
actually pressed out. It takes the wine press as well as grapes to 
ex-press juice, and it takes environing and resisting objects as well 
as internal emotion and impulsion to constitute an expression of 
emotion. 

Speaking of the production of poetry, Samuel Alexander 
remarked that “the artist’s work proceeds not from a finished 
imaginative experience to which the work of art corresponds, but 
from passionate excitement about the subject matter.... The 
poet’s poem is wrung from him by the subject which excites him.” 
The passage is a text upon which we may hang four comments. 
One of these comments may pass for the present as a reenforce¬ 
ment of a point made in previous chapters. The real work of art 
is the building up of an integral experience out of the interaction 
of organic and environmental conditions and energies. Nearer to 
our present theme is the second point: The thing expressed is 
wrung from the producer by the pressure exercised by objective 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


65 

things upon the natural impulses and tendencies—so far is ex¬ 
pression from being the direct and immaculate issue of the latter. 
The third point follows. The act of expression that constitutes a 
work of art is a construction in time, not an instantaneous emis¬ 
sion. And this statement signifies a great deal more than that 
it takes time for the painter to transfer his imaginative conception 
to canvass and for the sculptor to complete his chipping of 
marble. It means that the expression of the self in and through 
a medium, constituting the work of art, is itself a prolonged inter¬ 
action of something issuing from the self with objective condi¬ 
tions, a process in which both of them acquire a form and order 
they did not at first possess. Even the Almighty took seven days 
to create the heaven and the earth, and, if the record were com¬ 
plete, we should also learn that it was only at the end of that 
period that he was aware of just what He set out to do with the 
raw material of chaos that confronted Him. Only an emasculated 
subjective metaphysics has transformed the eloquent myth of 
Genesis into the conception of a Creator creating without any un¬ 
formed matter to work upon. 

The final comment is that when excitement about subject 
matter goes deep, it stirs up a store of attitudes and meanings 
derived from prior experience. As they are aroused into activity 
they become conscious thoughts and emotions, emotionalized 
images. To be set on fire by a thought or scene is to be inspired. 
What is kindled must either burn itself out, turning to ashes, or 
must press itself out in. material that changes the latter from 
crude metal into a refined product. Many a person is unhappy, 
tortured within, because he has at command no art of expressive 
action. What under happier conditions might be used to convert 
objective material into material of an intense and clear experi¬ 
ence, seethes within in unruly turmoil which finally dies down 
after, perhaps, a painful inner disruption. 

Materials undergoing combustion because of intimate con¬ 
tacts and mutually exercised resistances constitute inspiration. On 
the side of the self, elements that issue from prior experience are 
stirred into action in fresh desires, impulsions and images. These 
proceed from the subconscious, not cold or in shapes that are 
identified with particulars of the past, not in chunks and lumps, 
but fused in the fire of internal commotion. They do not seem 



66 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


to come from the self, because they issue from a self not con¬ 
sciously known. Hence, by a just myth, the inspiration is at¬ 
tributed to a god, or to the muse. The inspiration, however, is 
initial. In itself, at the outset, it is still inchoate. Inflamed inner 
material must find objective fuel upon which to feed. Through 
the interaction of the fuel with material already afire the refined 
and formed product comes into existence. The act of expression 
is not something which supervenes upon an inspiration already 
complete. It is the carrying forward to completion of an inspira¬ 
tion by means of the objective material of perception and 
imagery.* 

An impulsion cannot lead to expression save when it is 
thrown into commotion, turmoil. Unless there is com-pression 
nothing is ex-pressed. The turmoil marks the place where inner 
impulse and contact with environment, in fact or in idea, meet 
and create a ferment. The war dance and the harvest dance of 
the savage do not issue from within except there be an impending 
hostile raid or crops that are to be gathered. To generate the 
indispensable excitement there must be something at stake, some¬ 
thing momentous and uncertain-—like the outcome of a battle or 
the prospects of a harvest. A sure thing does not arouse us emo¬ 
tionally. Hence it is not mere excitement that is expressed but 
excitement-about-something; hence, also, it is that even mere 
excitement, short of complete panic, will utilize channels of action 
that have been worn by prior activities that dealt with objects. 
Thus, like the movements of an actor who goes through his part 
automatically, it simulates expression. Even an undefined uneasi¬ 
ness seeks outlet in song or pantomime, striving to become 
articulate. 

Erroneous views of the nature of the act of expression 
almost all have their source in the notion that an emotion is 

♦In his interesting "The Theory of Poetry,” Mr. Lascelles Aber¬ 
crombie wavers between two views of inspiration. One of them takes what 
seems to me the correct interpretation. In the poem, an inspiration "com¬ 
pletely and exquisitely defines itself.” At other times, he says the inspiration 
is the poem; "something self-contained and self-sufficient, a complete and 
entire whole.” He says that "each inspiration is something which did not 
and could not originally exist as words.” Doubtless such is the case; not even 
a trigonometric function exists merely as words. But if it is already self- 
sufficient and self-contained, why does it seek and find words as a medium 
of expression? 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


67 


complete in itself within, only when uttered having impact upon 
external material. But, in fact, an emotion is to or from or about 
something objective, whether in fact or in idea. An emotion is 
implicated in a situation, the issue of which is in suspense and in 
which the self that is moved in the emotion is vitally con¬ 
cerned. Situations are depressing, threatening, intolerable, trium¬ 
phant. Joy in the victory won by a group with which a person 
Is identified is not something internally complete, nor is sorrow 
upon the death of a friend anything that can be understood save 
as an interpenetration of self with objective conditions. 

This latter fact is especially important in connection with 
the individualization of works of art. The notion that expression 
is a direct emission of an emotion complete in itself entails 
logically that individualization is specious and external. For, 
according to it, fear is fear, elation is elation, love is love, each 
being generic, and internally differentiated only by differences of 
intensity. Were this idea correct, works of art would necessarily 
fall within certain types. This view has infected criticism but not 
so as to assist understanding of concrete works of art. Save 
nominally, there is no such thing as the emotion of fear, hate, 
love. The unique, unduplicated character of experienced events 
and situations impregnates the emotion that is evoked. Were it 
the function of speech to reproduce that to which it refers, we 
could never speak of fear, but only of fear-of-this-particular- 
oncoming-automobile, with all its specifications of time and place, 
or fear-under-specified-circumstances-of-drawing-a-wrong-condu- 
sion from just-such-and-such-data. A lifetime would be too short 
to reproduce in words a single emotion. In reality, however, poet 
and novelist have an immense advantage over even an expert 
psychologist in dealing with an emotion. For the former build 
up a concrete situation and permit it to evoke emotional re¬ 
sponse. Instead of a description of an emotion in intellectual and 
symbolic terms, the artist “does the deed that breeds” the 
emotion. 

That art is selective is a fact universally recognized. It is 
so because of the role of emotion in the act of expression. Any 
predominant mood automatically excludes all that is uncongenial 
with it. An emotion is more effective than any deliberate challeng¬ 
ing sentinel could be. It reaches out tentades for that which is 



68 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


cognate, for things which feed it and carry it to completion. 
Only when emotion dies or is broken to dispersed fragments, can 
material to which it is alien enter consciousness. The selective 
operation of materials so powerfully exercised by a developing 
emotion in a series of continued acts extracts matter from a 
multitude of objects, numerically and spatially separated, and 
condenses what is abstracted in an object that is an epitome of 
the values belonging to them all. This function creates the 
“universality” of a work of art. 

If one examines into the reason why certain works of art 
offend us, one is likely to find that the cause is that there is no 
personally felt emotion guiding the selecting and assembling of 
the materials presented. We derive the impression that the artist, 
say the author of a novel, is trying to regulate by conscious intent 
the nature of the emotion aroused. We are irritated by a feeling 
that he is manipulating materials to secure an effect decided upon 
in advance. The facets of the work, the variety so indispensable 
to it, are held together by some external force. The movement 
of the parts and the conclusion disclose no logical necessity. The 
author, not the subject matter, is the arbiter. 

In reading a novel, even one written by an expert crafts¬ 
man, one may get a feeling early in the story that hero or heroine 
is doomed, doomed not by anything inherent in situations and 
character but by the intent of the author who makes the character 
a puppet to set forth his own cherished idea. The painful feeling 
that results is resented not because it is painful but because 
it is foisted upon us by something that we feel comes from outside 
the movement of the subject matter. A work may be much more 
tragic and yet leave us with an emotion of fulfillment instead ot 
irritation. We are reconciled to the conclusion because we feel 
it is inherent in the movement of the subject matter portrayed. 
The incident is tragic but the world in which such fateful things 
happen is not an arbitrary and imposed world. The emotion of 
the author and that aroused in us are occasioned by scenes in 
that world and they blend with subject matter. It is for similar 
reasons that we are repelled by the intrusion of a moral design 
in literature while we esthetically accept any amount of morai 
content if it is held together by a sincere emotion that controls 
the material. A white flame of pity or indignation may find mate- 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


69 


rial that feeds it and it may fuse everything assembled into a 
vital whole. 

Just because emotion is essential to that act of expression 
which produces a work of art, it is easy for inaccurate analysis 
to misconceive its mode of operation and conclude that the work 
of art has emotion for its significant content. One may cry out 
with joy or even weep upon seeing a friend from whom one has 
been long separated. The outcome is not an expressive object— 
save to the onlooker. But if the emotion leads one to gather 
material that is affiliated to the mood which is aroused, a poem 
may result. In the direct outburst, an objective situation is the 
stimulus, the cause, of the emotion. In the poem, objective ma¬ 
terial becomes the content and matter of the emotion, not just 
its evocative occasion. 

In the development of an expressive act, the emotion 
operates like a magnet drawing to itself appropriate material: 
appropriate because it has an experienced emotional affinity for 
the state of mind already moving. Selection and organization of 
material are at once a function and a test of the quality of the 
emotion experienced. In seeing a drama, beholding a picture, or 
reading a novel, we may feel that the parts do not hang together. 
Either the maker had no experience that was emotionally toned, 
or, although having at the outset a felt emotion, it was not sus¬ 
tained, and a succession of unrelated emotions dictated the work. 
In the latter case, attention wavered and shifted, and an assem¬ 
blage of incongruous parts ensued. The sensitive observer or 
reader is aware of junctions and seams, of holes arbitrarily filled 
in. Yes, emotion must operate. But it works to effect continuity 
of movement, singleness of effect amid variety. It is selective of 
material and directive of its order and arrangement. But it is not 
what is expressed. Without emotion, there may be craftsmanship, 
but not art; it may be present and be intense, but if it is directly 
manifested the result is also not art. 

There are other works that are overloaded with emotion. 
On the theory that manifestation of an emotion is its expression, 
there could be no overloading; the more intense the emotion, 
the more effective the “expression.” In fact, a person over¬ 
whelmed by an emotion is thereby incapacitated for expressing 
it. There is at least that element of truth in Wordsworth’s formula 



70 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” There is, when one is 
mastered by an emotion, too much undergoing (in the language 
by which having an experience has been described 1 and too little 
active response to permit a balanced relationship to be struck. 
There is too much “nature” to allow of the development of art. 
Many of the paintings of Van Gogh, for example, have an in¬ 
tensity that arouses an answering chord. But with the intensity, 
there is an explosiveness due to absence of assertion of control. 
In extreme cases of emotion, it works to disorder instead of order¬ 
ing material. Insufficient emotion shows itself in a coldly 
“correct” product. Excessive emotion obstructs the necessary 
elaboration and definition of parts. 

The determination of the mot juste, of the right incident 
in the right place, of exquisiteness of proportion, of the precise 
tone, hue, and shade that helps unify the whole while it defines 
a part, is accomplished by emotion. Not every emotion, however, 
can do this work, but only one informed by material that is 
grasped and gathered. Emotion is informed and carried forward 
when it is spent indirectly in search for material and in giving 
it order, not when it is directly expended. 


WORKS of art often present to us an air of spontaneity, a 
lyric quality, as if they were the unpremeditated song of a bird. 
But man, whether fortunately or unfortunately, is not a bird. 
His most spontaneous outbursts, if expressive, are not overflows 
of momentary internal pressures. The spontaneous in art is com¬ 
plete absorption in subject matter that is fresh, the freshness of 
which holds and sustains emotion. Staleness of matter and ob¬ 
trusion of calculation are the two enemies of spontaneity of 
expression. Reflection, even long and arduous reflection, may 
have been concerned in the generation of material. But an expres¬ 
sion will, nevertheless, manifest spontaneity if that matter has 
been vitally taken up into a present experience. The inevitable 
self-movement of a poem or drama is compatible with any amount 
of prior labor provided the results of that labor emerge in com¬ 
plete fusion with an emotion that is fresh. Keats speaks poetically 
of the way in which artistic expression is reached when he tells 
of the “innumerable compositions and decompositions which take 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


11 

place between the intellect and its thousand materials before it 
arrives at that trembling, delicate and snail-horn perception of 
beauty.” 

Each of us assimilates into himself something of the values 
and meanings contained in past experiences. But we do so in 
differing degrees and at differing levels of selfhood. Some things 
sink deep, others stay on tire surface and are easily displaced. 
The old poets traditionally invoked the muse of Memory as some¬ 
thing wholly outside themselves—outside their present conscious 
selves. The invocation is a tribute to the power of what is most 
deep-lying and therefore the furthest below consciousness, in 
determination of the present self and of what it has to say. It is 
not true that we “forget” or drop into unconsciousness only alien 
and disagreeable tilings. It is even more true that the things 
which we have most completely made a part of ourselves, that 
we have assimilated to compose our personality and not merely 
retained as incidents, cease to have a separate conscious exist¬ 
ence. Some occasion, be it what it may, stirs the personality that 
has been thus formed. Then comes the need for expression. What 
is expressed will be neither the past events that have exercised 
their shaping influence nor yet the literal existing occasion. It 
will be, in the degree of its spontaneity, an intimate union of 
the features of present existence with the values that past experi¬ 
ence have incorporated in personality. Immediacy and individual¬ 
ity, the traits that mark concrete existence, come from the present 
occasion; meaning, substance, content, from what is embedded 
in the self from the past. 

I do not think that the dancing and singing of even little 
children can be explained wholly on the basis of unlearned and 
unformed responses to then existing objective occasions. Clearly 
there must be something in the present to evoke happiness. But 
the act is expressive only as there is in it a unison of something 
stored from past experience, something therefore generalized, 
with present conditions. In the case of the expressions of happy 
children the marriage of past values and present incidents takes 
place easily: there are few obstructions to be overcome, few 
wounds to heal, few conflicts to resolve. With maturer persons, 
the reverse is the case. Accordingly the achievement of complete 
unison is rare; but when it occurs it is so on a deeper level and 



72 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


with a fuller content of meaning. And then, even though after 
long incubation and after precedent pangs of labor, the final ex¬ 
pression may issue with the spontaneity of the cadenced speech 
or rhythmic movement of happy childhood. 

In one of his letters to his brother Van Gogh says that 
“emotions are sometimes so strong that one works without know¬ 
ing that one works, and the strokes come with a sequence and 
coherence like that of words in a speech or letter.” Such fullness 
of emotion and spontaneity of utterance come, however, only to 
those who have steeped themselves in experiences of objective 
situations; to those who have long been absorbed in observation 
of related material and whose imaginations have long been occu¬ 
pied with reconstructing what they see and hear. Otherwise the 
state is more like one of frenzy in which the sense of orderly 
production is subjective and hallucinatory. Even the volcano’s 
outburst presupposes a long period of prior compression, and, if 
the eruption sends forth molten lava and not merely separate 
rocks and ashes, it implies a transformation of original raw mate¬ 
rials. “Spontaneity” is the result of long periods of activity, or 
else it is so empty as not to be an act of expression. 

What William James wrote about religious experience 
might well have been written about the antecedents of acts of 
expression. “A man’s conscious wit and will are aiming at some¬ 
thing only dimly and inaccurately imagined. Yet all the while 
the forces of mere organic ripening within him are going on to 
their own prefigured result, and his conscious strainings are letting 
loose subconscious allies behind the scenes which in their way 
work toward rearrangement, and the rearrangement toward which 
all these deeper forces tend is pretty surely definite, and definitely 
different from what he consciously conceives and determines. It 
may consequently be actually interfered with (jammed as it were) 
by his voluntary efforts slanting toward the true direction.” Hence, 
as he adds, “When the new center of energy has been subcon¬ 
sciously incubated so long as to be just ready to burst into flower, 
‘hands off’ is the only word for us; it must burst forth unaided.” 

It would be difficult to find or give a better description of 
the nature of spontaneous expression. Pressure precedes the 
gushing forth of juice from the wine press. New ideas come 
leisurely yet promptly to consciousness only when work has pre- 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


73 


viously been done in forming the right doors by which they may 
gain entrance. Subconscious maturation precedes creative pro¬ 
duction in every line of human endeavor. The direct effort of 
“wit and will” of itself never gave birth to anything that is not 
mechanical; their function is necessary, but it is to let loose 
allies that exist outside their scope. At different times we brood 
over different things; we entertain purposes that, as far as con¬ 
sciousness is concerned, are independent, being each appropriate 
to its own occasion; we perform different acts, each with its own 
particular result. Yet as they all proceed from one living creature 
they are somehow bound together below the level of intention. 
They work together, and finally something is bom almost in spite 
of conscious personality, and certainly not because of its de¬ 
liberate will. When patience has done its perfect work, the man 
is taken possession of by the appropriate muse and speaks and 
sings as some god dictates. 

Persons who are conventionally set off from artists, 
“thinkers,” scientists, do not operate by conscious wit and will 
to anything like the extent popularly supposed. They, too, press 
forward toward some end dimly and imprecisely prefigured, grop¬ 
ing their way as they are lured on by the identity of an aura in 
which their observations and reflections swim. Only the psy¬ 
chology that has separated things which in reality belong together 
holds that scientists and philosophers think while poets and 
painters follow their feelings. In both, and to the same extent 
in the degree in which they are of comparable rank, there is emo¬ 
tionalized thinking, and there are feelings whose substance con¬ 
sists of appreciated meanings or ideas. As I have already said, 
the only significant distinction concerns the kind of material to 
which emotionalized imagination adheres. Those who are called 
artists have for their subject-matter the qualities of things of 
direct experience; “intellectual” inquirers deal with these quali¬ 
ties at one remove, through the medium of symbols that stand 
for qualities but are not significant in their immediate presence. 
The ultimate difference is enormous as far as the technique of 
thought and emotion are concerned. But there is no difference 
as far as dependence on emotionalized ideas and subconscious 
maturing are concerned. Thinking directly in terms of colors, 
tones, images, is a different operation technically from thinking 



74 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


in words. But only superstition will hold that, because the meaning 
of paintings and symphonies cannot be translated into words, or 
that of poetry into prose, therefore thought is monopolized by 
the latter. If all meanings could be adequately expressed by 
words, the arts of painting and music would not exist. There are 
values and meanings that can be expressed only by immediately 
visible and audible qualities, and to ask what they mean in the 
sense of something that can be put into words is to deny their 
distinctive existence. 

Different persons differ in the relative amount of partici¬ 
pation of conscious wit and will which go into their acts of expres¬ 
sion. Edgar Allan Poe left an account of the process of expression 
as it is engaged in by those of the more deliberate cast of mind. 
He is telling about what went on when he wrote “The Raven,” 
and says: “The public is rarely permitted to take a peep behind 
the scenes at the vacillating crudities, of the true purpose seized 
at the last moment, at the wheels and pinions, the tackle for scene 
shifting, the step ladders and demon traps, the red paint and 
black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, con¬ 
stitute the properties of the literary histrio” 

It is not necessary to take the numerical ration stated by 
Poe too seriously. But the substance of what he says is a pic¬ 
turesque presentation of a sober fact. The primitive and raw 
material of experience needs to be reworked in order to secure 
artistic expression. Oftentimes, this need is greater in cases of 
“inspiration” than in other cases. In this process the emotion 
called out by the original material is modified as it comes to be 
attached to the new material. This fact gives us the clue to the 
nature of esthetic emotion. 

With respect to the physical materials that enter into the 
formation of a work of art, every one knows that they must undergo 
change. Marble must be chipped; pigments must be laid on can¬ 
vas; words must be put together. It is not so generally recognized 
that a similar transformation takes place on the side of “inner” 
materials, images, observations, memories and emotions. They 
are also progressively re-formed; they, too, must be administered. 
This modification is the building up of a truly expressive act. The 
impulsion that seethes as a commotion demanding utterance must 
undergo as much and as careful management in order to receive 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


75 


eloquent manifestation as marble or pigment, as colors and 
sounds. Nor are there in fact two operations, one performed upon 
the outer material and the other upon the inner and mental stuff. 

The work is artistic in the degree in which the two func¬ 
tions of transformation are effected by a single operation. As the 
painter places pigment upon the canvas, or imagines it placed 
there, his ideas and feeling are also ordered. As the writer com¬ 
poses in his medium of words what he wants to say, his idea takes 
on for himself perceptible form. 

The sculptor conceives his statue, not just in mental terms 
but in those of clay, marble or bronze. Whether a musician, 
painter, or architect works out his original emotional idea in 
terms of auditory or visual imagery or in the actual medium as 
he works is of relatively minor importarfee. For the imagery is of 
the objective medium undergoing development. The physical 
media may be ordered in imagination or in concrete material. In 
any case, the physical process develops imagination, while imagi¬ 
nation is conceived in terms of concrete material. Only by pro¬ 
gressive organization of “inner” and “outer” material in organic 
connection with each other can anything be produced that is not 
a learned document or an illustration of something familiar. 

Suddenness of emergence belongs to appearance of mate¬ 
rial above the threshold of consciousness, not to the process of its 
generation. Could we trace any such manifestation to its roots 
and follow it through its history, we should find at the beginning 
an emotion comparatively gross and undefined. We should find 
that it assumed definite shape only as it worked itself through 
a series of changes in imagined material. What most of us lack 
in order to be artists is not the inceptive emotion, nor yet merely 
technical skill in execution. It is capacity to work a vague idea 
and emotion over into terms of some definite medium. Were ex¬ 
pression but a kind of decalcomania, or a conjuring of a rabbit 
out of the place where it lies hid, artistic expression would be a 
comparatively simple matter. But between conception and bring* 
mg to birth there lies a long period of gestation. During this 
period the inner material of emotion and idea is as much trans¬ 
formed through acting and being acted upon by objective material 
as the latter undergoes modification when it becomes a medium 
of expression. 



76 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


It is precisely this transformation that changes the char* 
acter of the original emotion, altering its quality so that it be¬ 
comes distinctively esthetic in nature. In formal definition, 
emotion is esthetic when it adheres to an object formed by an 
expressive act, in the sense in which the act of expression has 
been defined. 

In its beginning an emotion flies straight to its object. 
Love tends to cherish the loved object as hate tends to destroy 
the thing hated. Either emotion may be turned aside from its 
direct end. The emotion of love may seek and find material that 
is other than the directly loved one, but that is congenial and 
cognate through the emotion that draws things into affinity. This 
other material may be anything as long as it feeds the emotion. 
Consult the poets, and we find that love finds its expression in 
rushing torrents, still pools, in the suspense thaf awaits a storm, 
a bird poised in flight, a remote star or the fickle moon. Nor is 
this material metaphorical in character, if by “metaphor” is 
understood the result of any act of conscious comparison. De¬ 
liberate metaphor in poetry is the recourse of mind when emotion 
does not saturate material. Verbal expression may take the form 
of metaphor, but behind the words lies an act of emotional identi¬ 
fication, not an intellectual comparison. 

In all such cases, some object emotionally akin to the 
direct object of emotion takes the place of the latter. It acts in 
place of a direct caress, of hesitating approach, of trying to carry 
by storm. There is truth in Hulme’s statement that “beauty is 
the marking time, the stationary vibration, the feigned ecstasy, 
of an arrested impulse unable to reach its natural end.” * If there 
is anything wrong with the statement, it is the veiled intimation 
that the impulsion ought to have reached “its natural end.” If 
the emotion of love between the sexes had not been celebrated 
by means of diversion into material emotionally cognate but prac¬ 
tically irrelevant to its direct object and end, there is every reason 
to suppose it would still remain on the animal plane. The impulse 
arrested in its direct movement toward its physiologically normal 
end is not, in the case of poetry, arrested in an absolute sense. 
It is turned into indirect channels where it finds other material 
than that which is “naturally” appropriate to it, and as it fuses 
* Speculations, p. 266. 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


77 


with this material it takes on new color and has new consequences. 
This is what happens when any natural impulse is idealized or 
spiritualized. That which elevates the embrace of lovers above 
the animal plane is just the fact that when it occurs it has taken 
into itself, as its own meaning, the consequences of these indirect 
excursions that are imagination in action. 

Expression is the clarification of turbid emotion; our appe¬ 
tites know themselves when they are reflected in the mirror of 
art, and as they know themselves they are transfigured. Emotion 
that is distinctively esthetic then occurs. It is not & form of senti¬ 
ment that exists independently from the outset. It is an emotion 
induced by material that is expressive, and because it is evoked 
by and attached to this material it consists of natural emotions 
that have been transformed. Natural objects, landscapes, for ex¬ 
ample, induce it. But they do so only because when they are 
matter of an experience they, too, have undergone a change 
similar to that which the painter or poet effects in converting 
the immediate scene into the matter of an act that expresses the 
value of what is seen. 

An irritated person is moved to do something. He cannot 
suppress his irritation by any direct act of will; at most he can 
only drive it by this attempt into a subterranean channel where 
it will work the more insidiously and destructively. He must act 
to get rid of it. But he can act in different ways, one direct, the 
other indirect, in manifestations of his state. He cannot sup¬ 
press it any more than he can destroy the action of electricity 
by a fiat of will. But he can harness one or the other to 
the accomplishment of new ends that will do away with the 
destructive force of the natural agency. The irritable person does 
not have to take it out on neighbors or members of his family 
to get relief. He may remember that a certain amount of regu¬ 
lated physical activity is good medicine. He sets to work tidying 
his room, straightening pictures that are askew, sorting papers, 
clearing out drawers, putting things in order generally. He uses 
his emotion, switching it into indirect channels prepared by prior 
occupations and interests. But since there is something in the 
utilization of these channels that is emotionally akin to the means 
by which his irritation would find direct discharge, as he puts 
objects in order his emotion is ordered. 



78 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


This transformation is of the very essence of the change 
that takes place in any and every natural or original emotional 
impulsion when it takes the indirect road of expression instead 
of the direct road of discharge. Irritation may be let go like an 
arrow directed at a target and produce some change in the 
outer world. But having an outer effect is something very dif¬ 
ferent from ordered use of objective conditions in order to give 
objective fulfillment to the emotion. The latter alone is expres¬ 
sion and the emotion that attaches itself to, or is interpenetrated 
by, the resulting object is esthetic. If the person in question puts 
his room to rights as a matter of routine he is anesthetic. But if 
his original emotion of impatient irritation has been ordered and 
tranquillized by what he has done, the orderly room reflects back 
to him the change that has taken place in himself. He feels not 
that he has accomplished a needed chore but has done something 
emotionally fulfilling. His emotion as thus “objectified” is esthetic. 


ESTHETIC emotion is thus something distinctive and yet not 
cut off by a chasm from other and natural emotional experiences, 
as some theorists in contending for its existence have made it to 
be. One familiar with recent literature on esthetics will be aware 
of a tendency to go to one extreme or the other. On one hand, it 
is assumed that there is in existence, at least in some gifted 
persons, an emotion that is aboriginally esthetic, and that artistic 
production and appreciation are the manifestations of this emo¬ 
tion. Such a conception is the inevitable logical counterpart of 
all attitudes that make art something esoteric and that relegate 
fine art to a realm separated by a gulf from everyday experiences. 
On the other hand, a reaction wholesome in intent against this 
view goes to the extreme of holding that there is no such thing 
as distinctively esthetic emotion. The emotion of affection that 
operates not through an overt act of caress but by searching out 
the observation or image of a soaring bird, the emotion of irri¬ 
tating energy that does not destroy or injure but that puts objects 
in satisfying order, is not numerically identical with its original 
and natural estate. Yet it stands in genetic continuity with it. The 
emotion that was finally wrought out by Tennyson in the compo¬ 
sition of “In Memoriam” was not identical with the emotion of 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


79 


grief that manifests itself in weeping and a downcast frame: the 
first is an act of expression, the second of discharge. Yet the 
continuity of the two emotions, the fact that the esthetic emotion 
is native emotion transformed through the objective material to 
which it has committed its development and consummation, is 
evident. 

Samuel Johnson with the Philistine’s sturdy preference 
for reproduction of the familiar, criticized Milton’s “Lycidas” in 
the following way: “It is not to be considered as the effusion of 
real passion, for passion runs not after remote allusions and ob¬ 
scure opinions. Passion plucks not berries from the myrtle and 
ivy, nor calls upon Arethusa and Mincius, nor tells of rough 
satyrs and fauns with cloven heel. Where there is leisure for 
fiction there is little grief.” Of course the underlying principle of 
Johnson’s criticism would prevent the appearance of any work 
of art. It would, in strict logic, confine the “expression” of grief 
to weeping and tearing the hair. Thus, while the particular 
subject matter of Milton’s poem would not be used today in an 
elegy, it, and any other work of art, is bound to deal with the 
remote in one of its aspects—namely, that remote from immediate 
effusion of emotion and from material that is worn out. Grief 
that has matured beyond the need of weeping and wailing for 
relief will resort to something of the sort that Johnson calls 
fiction*—that is, imaginative material, although it be different 
matter from literature, classic and ancient myth. In all primitive 
peoples wailing soon assumes a ceremonial form that is “remote” 
from its native manifestation. 

In other words, art is not nature, but is nature trans¬ 
formed by entering into new relationships where it evokes a new 
emotional response. Many actors remain outside the particular 
emotion they portray. This fact is known as Diderot’s paradox 
since he first developed the theme. In fact, it is paradox only 
from the standpoint implied in the quotation from Samuel John¬ 
son. More recent inquiries have shown, indeed, that there are two 
types of actors. There are those who report that they are at their 
best when they “lose” themselves emotionally in their roles. Yet 
this fact is no exception to the principle that has been stated. 
For, after all, it is a role, a “part” with which actors identify 
themselves. As a part, it is conceived and treated as part of a 



80 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


whole; if there is art in acting, the role is subordinated so as to 
occupy the position of a part in the whole. It is thereby qualified 
by esthetic form. Even those who feel most poignantly the emo¬ 
tions of the character represented do not lose consciousness that 
they are on a stage where there are other actors taking part; 
that they are before an audience, and that they must, therefore, 
cooperate with other players in creating a certain effect. These 
facts demand and signify a definite transformation of the primi¬ 
tive emotion. Portrayal of intoxication is a common device of 
the comic stage. But a man actually drunken would have to use 
art to conceal his condition if he is not to disgust his audience, 
or at least to excite a laughter that differs radically from that 
excited by intoxication when acted. The difference between the 
two types of actors is not a difference between expression of an 
emotion controlled by the relations of the situation into which it 
enters and a manifestation of raw emotion. It is a difference in 
methods of bringing about the desired effect, a difference doubt¬ 
less connected with personal temperament. 

Finally, what has been said locates, even if it does not 
solve, the vexed problem of the relation of esthetic or fine art 
to other modes of production also called art. The difference that 
exists in fact cannot be leveled, as we have already seen, by 
defining both in terms of technique and skill. But neither can it 
be erected into a barrier that is insuperable by referring the cre¬ 
ation of fine art to an impulse that is unique, separated from 
impulsions which work in modes of expression not usually brought 
under the caption of fine art. Conduct can be sublime and man¬ 
ners gracious. If impulsion toward organization of material so 
as to present the latter in a form directly fulfilling in experience 
had no existence outside the arts of painting, poetry, music, and 
sculpture, it would not exist anywhere; there would be no fine 
art. 

The problem of conferring esthetic quality upon all modes 
of production is a serious problem. But it is a human problem 
for human solution; not a problem incapable of solution because 
it is set by some unpassable gulf in human nature or in the nature 
of things. In an imperfect society—and no society will ever be 
perfect—fine art will be to some extent an escape from, or an 
adventitious decoration of, the main activities of living. But in 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


81 


a better-ordered society than that in which we live, an infinitely 
greater happiness than is now the case would attend all modes 
of production. We live in a world in which there is an immense 
amount of organization, but it is an external organization, not 
one of the ordering of a growing experience, one that involves, 
moreover, the whole of the live creature, toward a fulfilling 
conclusion. Works of art that are pot remote from common life, 
that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified 
collective life. But they are also marvelous aids in the creation 
of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the 
act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist 
and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. 
In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking 
of the experience of the community in the direction of greater 
order and unity. 



CHAPTER V 


THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


E XPRESSION, like construction, signifies both an action and 
its result. The last chapter considered it as an act. We are now 
concerned with the product, the object that is expressive, that 
says something to us. If the two meanings are separated, the 
object is viewed in isolation from the operation which produced 
it, and therefore apart from individuality of vision, since the act 
proceeds from an individual live creature. Theories which seize 
upon “expression,” as if it denoted simply the object, always 
insist to the uttermost that the object of art is purely representa¬ 
tive of other objects already in existence. They ignore the indi¬ 
vidual contribution which makes the object something new. They 
dwell upon its “universal” character, and upon its meaning—an 
ambiguous term, as we shall see. On the other hand, isolation of 
the act of expressing from the expressiveness possessed by the 
object leads to the notion that expression is merely a process of 
discharging personal emotion—the conception criticized in the 
last chapter. 

The juice expressed by the wine press is what it is because 
of a prior act, and it is something new and distinctive. It does not 
merely represent other things. Yet it has something in common 
with other objects and it is made to appeal to other persons than 
the one who produced it. A poem and picture present material 
passed through the alembic of personal experience. They have no 
precedents in existence or in universal being. But, nonetheless, 
their material came from the public world and so has qualities in 
common with the material of other experiences, while the product 
awakens in other persons new perceptions of the meanings of the 
common world. The oppositions of individual and universal, of 
subjective and objective, of freedom and order, in which philoso¬ 
phers have reveled, have no place in the work of art. Expression 
as personal act and as objective result are organically connected 
with each other. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


83 


It is not necessary, therefore, to go into these metaphysical 
questions. We may approach the matter directly. What does it 
mean to say that a work of art is representative, since it must be 
representative in some sense if it is expressive? To say in general 
that a work of art is or is not representative is meaningless. For 
the word has many meanings. An affirmation of representative 
quality may be false in one sense and true in another. If literal 
reproduction is signified by “representative” then the work of art 
is not of that nature, for such a view ignores the uniqueness of 
the work due to the personal medium through which scenes and 
events have passed. Matisse said that the camera was a great 
boon to painters, since it relieved them from any apparent neces¬ 
sity of copying objects. But representation may also mean that 
the work of art tells something to those who enjoy it about the 
nature of their own experience of the world: that it presents the 
world in a new experience which they undergo. 

A similar ambiguity attends the question of meaning in a 
work of art. Words are symbols which represent objects and 
actions in the sense of standing for them; in that sense they have 
meaning. A signboard has meaning when it says so many miles 
to such and such a place, with an arrow pointing the direction. 
But meaning in these two cases has a purely external reference; 
it stands for something by pointing to it. Meaning does not belong 
to the word and signboard of its own intrinsic right. They have 
meaning in the sense in which an algebraic formula or a cipher 
code has it. But there are other meanings that present themselves 
directly as possessions of objects which are experienced. Here 
there is no need for a code or convention of interpretation; the 
meaning is as inherent in immediate experience as is that of a 
dower garden. Denial of meaning to a work of art thus has two 
radically different significations. It may signify that a work of 
art has not the kind of meaning that belongs to signs and sym¬ 
bols in mathematics—a contention that is just. Or it may signify 
that the work of art is without meaning as nonsense is without it. 
The work of art certainly does not have that which is had by 
flags when used to signal another ship. But it does have that pos¬ 
sessed by flags when they are used to decorate the deck of a ship 
for a dance. 

Since there are presumably none who intend to assert that 



84 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


works of art are without meaning in the sense of being sense¬ 
less, it might seem as if they simply intended to exclude external 
meaning, meaning that resides outside the work of art itself. 
Unfortunately, however, the case is not so simple. The denial of 
meaning to art usually rests upon the assumption that the kind 
of value (and meaning) that a work of art possesses is so unique 
that it is without community or connection with the contents of 
other modes of experience than the esthetic. It is, in short, another 
way of upholding what I have called the esoteric idea of fine art. 
The conception implied in the treatment of esthetic experience 
set forth in the previous chapters is, indeed, that the work of 
art has a unique quality , but that it is that of clarifying and con¬ 
centrating meanings contained in scattered and weakened ways 
In the material of other experiences. 

The problem in hand may be approached by drawing a 
distinction between expression and statement. Science states 
meanings; art expresses them. It is possible that this remark will 
Itself illustrate the difference I have in mind better than will any 
amount of explanatory comment. Yet I venture upon some degree 
of amplification. The instance of a signboard may help. It directs 
one’s course to a place, say a city. It does not in any way supply 
experience of that city even in a vicarious way. What it does do 
is to set forth some of the conditions that must be fulfilled in 
order to procure that experience. What holds in this instance may 
be generalized. Statement sets forth the conditions under which 
an experience of an object or situation may be had. It is a good, 
that is, effective, statement in the degree in which these conditions 
are stated in such a way that they can be used as directions by 
which one may arrive at the experience. It is a bad statement, 
confused and false, if it sets forth these conditions in such a way 
that when they are used as directions, they mislead or take one 
to the object in a wasteful way. 

“Science” signifies just that mode of statement that is 
most helpful as direction. To take the old standard case—-which 
science today seems bent upon modifying—the statement that 
water is H 2 0 is primarily a statement of the conditions under 
which water comes into existence. But it is also for those who 
understand it a direction for producing pure water and for testing 
anything that is likely to be taken for water. It is a “better” 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 8S 

statement than popular and pre-scientific ones just because in 
stating the conditions for the existence of water comprehensively 
and exactly, it sets them forth in a way that gives direction con¬ 
cerning generation of water. Such, however, is the newness of 
scientific statement and its present prestige (due ultimately to its 
directive efficacy) that scientific statement is often thought to 
possess more than a signboard function and to disclose or be 
“expressive” of the inner nature of things. If it did, it would come 
into competition with art, and we should have to take sides and 
decide which of the two promulgates the more genuine revelation. 

The poetic as distinct from the prosaic, esthetic art as diV 
tinct from scientific, expression as distinct from statement, does 
something different from leading to an experience. It constitutes 
one. A traveler who follows the statement or direction of a sign¬ 
board finds himself in the city that has been pointed towards. He 
then may have in his own experience some of the meaning which 
the city possesses. We may have it to such an extent that the city 
has expressed itself to him—as Tintern Abbey expressed itself to 
Wordsworth in and through his poem. The city might, indeed, be 
trying to express itself in a celebration attended with pageantry 
and all other resources that would render its history and spirit 
perceptible. Then there is, if the visitor has himself the experience 
that permits him to participate, an expressive object, as different 
from the statements of a gazetteer, however full and correct they 
might be, as Wordsworth’s poem is different from the account of 
Tintern Abbey given by an antiquarian. The poem, or painting, 
does not operate in the dimension of correct descriptive statement 
but in that of experience itself. Poetry and prose, literal photo¬ 
graph and painting, operate in different media to distinct ends. 
Prose is set forth in propositions. The logic of poetry is super- 
propositional even when it uses what are, grammatically speaking, 
propositions. The latter have intent; art is an immediate realiza¬ 
tion of intent. 

Van Gogh’s letters to his brother are filled with accounts 
of things he has observed and many of which he painted. I cite 
one of many instances. “I have a view of the Rhone—the iron 
bridge at Trinquetaille, in which sky and river are the color of 
absinthe, the quays a shade of lilac, the figures leaning on the 
parapet, blackish, the iron bridge an intense blue, with a note of 



86 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


vivid orange in the background, and a note of intense malachite.” 
Here is statement of a sort calculated to lead his brother to a 
like “view.” But who, from the words alone—“I am trying to get 
something utterly heart-broken”—could infer the transition that 
Vincent himself makes to the particular expressiveness he desired 
to achieve in his picture? These words taken by themselves are 
not the expression; they only hint at it. The expressiveness, the 
esthetic meaning, is the picture itself. But the difference between 
the description of the scene and what he was striving for may 
remind us of the difference between statement and expression. 

There may have been something accidental in the physical 
scene itself which left Van Gogh with the impression of utter 
desolation. Yet the meaning is there; it is there as something 
beyond the occasion of the painter’s private experience, something 
that he takes to be there potentially for others. Its incorporation 
is the picture. Words cannot duplicate the expressiveness of the 
object. But words can point out that the picture is not “repre¬ 
sentative” of just a particular bridge over the Rhone River, nor 
yet of a broken heart, not even of Van Gogh’s own emotion of 
desolation that happened somehow to be first excited and then 
absorbed by (and into) the scene. He aimed, through pictorial 
presentation of material that any one on the spot might “observe,” 
that thousands had observed, to present a new object experienced 
as having its own unique meaning. Emotional turmoil and an 
external episode fused in an object which was “expressive” of 
neither of them separately nor yet of a mechanical junction of the 
two, but of just the meaning of the “utterly heart-broken.” He 
did not pour forth the emotion of desolation; that was impossible. 
He selected and organized an external subject matter with a view 
to something quite different—an expression. And in the degree in 
which he succeeded the picture is, of necessity, expressive. 

Roger Fry, in commenting upon the characteristic features 
of modern painting, has generalized as follows: “Almost any turn 
of the kaleidoscope of nature may set up in the artist a detached 
and esthetic vision, and, as he contemplates the particular field 
of vision, the (esthetically) chaotic and accidental contemplation 
of forms and colours begins to crystallize into a harmony; and, 
as this harmony becomes clear to the artist, his actual vision 
becomes distorted by the emphasis of the rhythm that is set up 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


87 


within him. Certain relations of line become for him full of mean¬ 
ing; he apprehends them no longer curiously but passionately, 
and these lines begin to be so stressed and stand out so clearly 
from the rest that he sees them more distinctly than he did at 
first. Similarly, colours which in nature have almost always a cer¬ 
tain vagueness and elusiveness, become so definite and clear to 
him, owing to their now so necessary relation to other colours, 
that, if he chooses to paint his vision, he can state it positively and 
definitely. In such a creative vision, the objects as such tend to 
disappear, to lose their separate unities and to take their place 
as so many bits in the whole mosaic of vision.” 

The passage seems to me an excellent account of the sort 
of thing that takes place in artistic perception and construction. 
It makes clear two things: Representation is not, if the vision 
has been artistic or constructive (creative), of “objects as such,” 
that is of items in the natural scene as they literally occur or are 
recalled. It is not the kind of representation that a camera 
would report if a detective, say, were preserving the scene 
for his own purpose. Moreover, the reason for this fact is 
clearly set forth. Certain relations of lines and colors become 
important, “full of meaning,” and everything else is subordi¬ 
nated to the evocation of what is implied in these relations, 
omitted, distorted, added to, transformed, to convey the relation¬ 
ships. One thing may be added to what is said. The painter did 
not approach the scene with an empty mind, but with a back¬ 
ground of experiences long ago funded into capacities and likes, 
or with a commotion due to more recent experiences. He comes 
with a mind waiting, patient, willing to be impressed and yet 
not without bias and tendency in vision. Hence lines and color 
crystallize in this harmony rather than in that. This especial 
mode of harmonization is not the exclusive result of the lines 
and colors. It is a function of what is in the actual scene in its 
interaction with what the beholder brings with him. Some subtle 
affinity with the current of his own experience as a live creature 
causes lines and colors to arrange themselves in one pattern and 
rhythm rather than in another. The passionateness that marks 
observation goes with the development of the new form—it is 
the distinctly esthetic emotion that has been spoken of. But it 
is not independent of some prior emotion that has stirred in the 



88 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


artist's experience; the latter is renewed and recreated through 
fusion with an emotion belonging to vision of esthetically quali¬ 
fied material. 

If these considerations are borne in mind, a certain am¬ 
biguity that attaches to the passage quoted will be cleared up. 
He speaks of lines and their relations being full of meaning. But 
for anything explicitly stated, the meaning to which he refers 
might be exclusively of lines in their relations to one another. 
Then the meanings of lines and colors would completely replace 
all meanings that attach to this and any other experience of natu¬ 
ral scene. In that case, the meaning of the esthetic object is 
unique in the sense of separation from meanings of everything 
else experienced. The work of art is then expressive only in the 
sense that it expresses something which belongs exclusively to 
art. That something of this kind is intended may be inferred 
from another statement of Mr. Fry’s that is often quoted, to the 
effect that “subject matter” in a work of art is always irrelevant, 
if not actually detrimental. 

Thus the passages quoted bring to a focus the problem of 
the nature of “representation” in art. The emphasis of the first 
passage upon emergence of new lines and colors in new relations 
is needed. It saves those who heed it from the assumption, usual 
in practice if not in theory especially in connection with painting, 
that representation signifies either imitation or agreeable reminis¬ 
cence. But the statement that subject-matter is irrelevant commits 
those who accept it to a completely esoteric theory of art. Mr. 
Fry goes on to say: “In so far as the artist looks at objects only 
as parts of a whole field of vision which is his own potential 
theory, he can give no account of their esthetic value.” And he 
adds: “... the artist is of all men the most constantly observant 
of his surroundings, and the least affected by their intrinsic 
esthetic value.” Otherwise, how explain the tendency of the 
painter to turn away from scenes and objects that possess obvious 
esthetic value to things that stir him because of some oddity 
and form? Why is he more likely to paint Soho than St. Paul’s? 

The tendency to which Mr. Fry refers is an actual one, 
just as is the tendency of critics to condemn a picture on the 
ground that its subject matter is “sordid,” or eccentric. But it is 
equally true, that any authentic artist will avoid material that 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


89 


has previously been esthetically exploited to the lull and will 
seek out material in which his capacity for individual vision and 
rendering can have free play. He leaves it to lesser men to go on 
saying with slight variations what has already been said. Before 
we decide that such considerations as these do not explain the 
tendency to which Mr. Fry refers, before we draw the particular 
inference he draws, we must return to the force of a consideration 
already noted. 

Mr. Fry is intent upon establishing a radical difference 
between esthetic values that are intrinsic to things of ordinary ex¬ 
perience and the esthetic value with which the artist is concerned. 
His implication is that the former is directly connected with 
subject matter, the latter with form that is separated from any 
suoject matter, save what is, esthetically, an accident. Were it 
possible for an artist to approach a scene with no interests and 
attitudes, no background of values, drawn from his prior ex¬ 
perience, he might, theoretically, see lines and colors exclu¬ 
sively in terms of their relationships as lines and colors. But this 
is a condition impossible to fulfill. Moreover, in such a case there 
would be nothing for him to become passionate about. Before an 
artist can develop his reconstruction of the scene before him in 
terms of the relations of colors and lines characteristic of his 
picture, he observes the scene with meanings and values brought 
to his perception by prior experiences. These are indeed remade, 
transformed, as his new esthetic vision takes shape. But they 
cannot vanish and yet the artist continue to see an object. No 
matter how ardently the artist might desire it, he cannot divest 
himself, in his new perception, of meanings funded from his past 
intercourse with his surroundings, nor can he free himself from 
the influence they exert upon the substance and manner of his 
present seeing. If he could and did, there would be nothing left 
in the way of an object for him to see. 

Aspects and states of his prior experience of varied subject- 
matters have been wrought into his being; they are the organs 
with which he perceives. Creative vision modifies these materials. 
They take their place in an unprecedented object of a new ex¬ 
perience. Memories, not necessarily conscious but retentions that 
have been organically incorporated in the very structure of the 
self, feed present observation. They are the nutriment that gives 



90 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


body to what is seen. As they are rewrought into the matter of 
the new experience, they give the newly created object expressive¬ 
ness. 

Suppose the artist wishes to portray by means of his 
medium the emotional state or the enduring character of some 
person. By the compelling force of his medium, he will, if an 
artist—that is, if a painter, with disciplined respect for his 
medium—modify the object present to him. He will resee the 
object in terms of lines, colors, light, space—relations that form a 
pictorial whole, that is, that create an object immediately enjoyed 
in perception. In denying that the artist attempts to represent in 
the sense of literal reproduction of colors, lines, etc., as they al¬ 
ready exist in the object, Mr. Fry is admirably right. But the 
inference that there is no re-presentation of any meanings of any 
subject matter whatever, no presentation that is of a subject 
matter having a meaning of its own which clarifies and concen¬ 
trates the diffused and dulled meanings of other experiences does 
not follow. Generalize Mr. Fry’s contention regarding painting 
by extension to drama or poetry and the latter cease to be. 

The difference between the two kinds of representation 
may be indicated by reference to drawing. A person with a knack 
can easily jot down lines that suggest fear, rage, amusement, and 
so on. He indicates elation by lines curved in one direction, sorrow 
by curves in the opposite direction. But the result is not an object 
of perception . What is seen passes at once over into the thing 
suggested. The drawing is similar in kind though not in its con¬ 
stituents to a signboard. The object indicates rather than contains 
meaning. Its value is like that of the signboard to the motorist 
in the direction it gives to further activity. The arrangement of 
lines and spaces is not enjoyed in perception because of its own 
experienced quality but because of what it reminds us of. 

There is another great difference between expression and 
statement. The latter is generalized. An intellectual statement is 
valuable in the degree in which it conducts the mind to many 
things all of the same kind. It is effective in the extent to which, 
like an even pavement, it transports us easily to many places. 
The meaning of an expressive object, on the contrary, is indi¬ 
vidualized. The diagrammatic drawing that suggests grief does not 
convey the grief of an individual person; it exhibits the kind of 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 91 

facial "expression” persons in general manifest when suffering 
grief. The esthetic portrayal of grief manifests the grief of a 
particular individual in connection with a particular event. It is 
that state of sorrow which is depicted, not depression unattached. 
It has a local habitation. 

A state of beatitude is a common theme in religious paint¬ 
ings. Saints are presented as enjoying a condition of blissful 
happiness. But in most of the earlier religious paintings, this state 
is indicated rather than expressed. The lines that set it forth for 
identification are like propositional signs. They are almost as 
much of a set and generalized nature as the halo that surrounds 
the heads of saints. Information is conveyed of an edifying char¬ 
acter by symbols as conventional as those which are brought in 
to distinguish various St. Catherines or to mark the different 
Marys at the foot of the cross. There is no necessary relation, but 
only an association cultivated in ecclesiastical circles between the 
generic state of bliss and the particular figure in question. It may 
arouse a similar emotion in persons who still cherish the same 
associations. But instead of being esthetic, it will be of the kind 
described by William James: "I remember seeing an English 
couple sit for more than an hour on a piercing February day in 
the Academy in Venice before the celebrated ‘Assumption 1 by 
Titian; and when I, after being chased from room to room by the 
cold, concluded to get into the sunshine as fast as possible and 
let the pictures go, but before leaving drew reverently near to 
them to learn with what superior forms of susceptibility they 
might be endowed, all I overheard was the woman’s voice mur¬ 
muring: ‘What a deprecatory expression her face wears! What 
se\i-abnegation! How unworthy she feels of the honor she is 
receiving.’ ” 

The sentimental religiosity of Murillo’s paintings affords 
a good example of what happens when a painter of undoubted 
talent subordinates his artistic sense to associated "meanings” 
that are artistically irrelevant. Before his paintings, the type of 
remark that was wholly out of place in the case of Titian would 
be pertinent. But it would carry with it a lack of esthetic ful¬ 
fillment. 

Giotto painted saints. But their faces are less conventional; 
they are more individual and hence more naturaiistically por- 



92 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


trayed. At the same time they are more esthetically presented. 
The artist now uses light, space, color and line, the media, to 
present an object that belongs of itself in an enjoyed perceptual 
experience. The distinctive human religious meaning and the dis¬ 
tinctive esthetic value interpenetrate and fuse; the object is truly 
expressive. This part of the picture is as unmistakably a Giotto 
as the saints of Masaccio are Masaccios. Bliss is not a stencil 
transferable from one painter’s work to that of another, but bears 
the marks of its individual creator, for it expresses his experience 
as well as that presumed to belong to a saint in general. Meaning 
is more fully expressed, even in its essential nature, in an indi¬ 
vidualized form than in a diagrammatic representation or in a 
literal copy. The latter contains too much that is irrelevant; the 
former is too indefinite. An artistic relationship between color, 
light, and space in a portrait is not only more enjoyable than is an 
outline stencil but it says more. In a portrait by Titian, Tinto¬ 
retto, Rembrandt, or Goya, we seem to be in the presence of 
essential character. But the result is accomplished by strictly 
plastic means, while the very way in which backgrounds are 
handled gives us something more than personality. Distortion of 
lines and departures from actual color may not only add to 
esthetic effect but result in increased expressiveness. For then 
material is not subordinated to some particular and antecedent 
meaning entertained about the person in question (and a literal 
reproduction can give only a cross-section exhibited at a particular 
moment), but it is reconstructed and reorganized to express the 
artist’s imaginative vision of the whole being of the person. 

There is no more common misunderstanding of painting 
than attends the nature of drawing. The observer, who has learned 
to recognize but not to perceive esthetically, will stand before a 
Botticelli, an El Greco, or Cezanne and say “What a pity the 
painter has never learned to draw.” Yet drawing may be the 
artist’s forte. Dr. Barnes has pointed out the real function of 
drawing in pictures. It is not a means for securing expressiveness 
in general but a very special value of expression. It is not a 
means of assisting recognition by means of exact outline and 
definite shading. Drawing is drawing out; it is extraction of what 
the subject matter has to say in particular to the painter in his 
integrated experience. Because the painting is a unity of inter- 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


93 


related parts, every designation of a particular figure has, more* 
over, to be drawn into a relation of mutual reenforcement with 
all other plastic means—color, light, the spatial planes and the 
placing of other parts. This integration may, and in fact does, 
involve what is, from the standpoint of the shape of the real 
thing, a physical distortion.* 

Linear outlines that are used to reproduce with accuracy 
a particular shape are of necessity limited in expressiveness. They 
express either just one thing, “realistically” as it is sometimes said, 
or they express a generalized kind of thing by which we recog¬ 
nize the species—being a man, a tree, a saint, or whatever. Lines 
esthetically “drawn” fulfill many functions with corresponding 
increase of expressiveness. They embody the meaning of volume, 
of room and position; solidity and movement; they enter into the 
force of all other parts of the picture, and they serve to relate 
all parts together so that the value of the whole is energetically 
expressed. No mere skill in draughtsmanship can make lines that 
will fulfill all these functions. On the contrary, isolated skill in 
this respect is practically sure to end in a construction wherein 
linear outlines stand out by themselves, thus marring the expres¬ 
siveness of the work as a whole. In the historical development 
of painting, the determination of shapes by drawing has steadily 
progressed from giving a pleasing indication of a particular object 
to become a relationship of planes and a harmonious merging 
of colors. 

“Abstract” art may seem to be an exception to what has 
been said about expressiveness and meaning. Works of abstract 
art are asserted by some not to be works of art at all, and by 
others to be the very acme of art. The latter estimate them by 
their remoteness from representation in its literal sense; the 
former deny they have any expressiveness. The solution of the 
matter is found, I think, in the following statement of Dr. 
Barnes. “Reference to the real world does not disappear from art 
as forms cease to be those of actually existing things, any more 
than objectivity disappears from science when it ceases to talk 
in terms of earth, fire, air and water, and substitutes for these 
things the less easily recognizable ‘hydrogen,* ‘oxygen,* ‘nitrogen,* 

♦Barnes, “The Art in Painting,” pp. 86 and 126, and “The Art of 
Matisse,” the chapter on Drawing, especially pp. 81-82. 



*4 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


and ‘carbon/... When we cannot find in a picture representation 
of any particular object, what it represents may be the qualities 
which all particular objects share, such as color, extensity, solidity, 
movement, rhythm, etc. All particular things have these qualities; 
hence what serves, so to speak, as a paradigm of the visible 
essence of all things may hold in solution the emotions which 
individualized things provoke in a more specialized way.” * 

Art does not, in short, cease to be expressive because it 
renders in visible form relations of things, without any more 
indication of the particulars that have the relations than is neces¬ 
sary to compose a whole. Every work of art “abstracts” in some 
degree from the particular traits of objects expressed. Otherwise, 
it would only, by means of exact imitation, create an illusion of 
the presence of the things themselves. The ultimate subject matter 
of still life painting is highly “realistic”—napery, pans, apples, 
bowls. But a still life by Chardin or Cezanne presents these mate¬ 
rials in terms of relations of lines, planes and colors inherently 
enjoyed in perception. This re-ordering could not occur without 
some measure of “abstraction” from physical existence. Indeed, 
the very attempt to present three-dimensional objects on a two- 
dimensional plane demands abstraction from the usual conditions 
in which they exist. There is no a priori rule to decide how far 
abstraction may be carried. In a work of art the proof of the 
pudding is decidedly in the eating. There are still-lifes of Cezanne 
in which one of the objects is actually levitated. Yet the expres¬ 
siveness of the whole to an observer with esthetic vision is en¬ 
hanced not lowered. It carries further a trait which every one 
takes for granted in looking at a picture; namely, that no object 
in the picture is physically supported by any other. The support 
they give to one another Hes in their respective contributions to 
the perceptual experience. Expression of the readiness of objects 
to move, although temporarily sustained in equilibrium, is intensi¬ 
fied by abstraction from conditions that are physically and ex¬ 
ternally possible. “Abstraction” is usually associated with dis¬ 
tinctively intellectual undertakings. Actually it is found in every 
work of art. The difference is the interest in which and purpose 
for which abstraction takes place in science and art respectively. 

* “The Art in Painting,” p. 52. The origin of the idea is referred to Dr. 
Buermeyer. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


95 


In science it occurs for the sake of effective statement, as that 
has been defined; in art, for the sake of expressiveness of the 
object, and the artist’s own being and experience determine wkat 
shall be expressed and therefore the nature and extent of the 
abstraction that occurs. 

It is everywhere accepted that art involves selection. 
Lack of selection or undirected attention results in unorganized 
miscellany. The directive source of selection is interest; an uncon¬ 
scious but organic bias toward certain aspects and values of the 
complex and variegated universe in which we live. In no case can 
a work of art rival the infinite concreteness of nature. An artist 
is ruthless, when he selects, in following the logic of his interest 
while he adds to his selective bent an efflorescence or “abounding” 
in the sense or direction in which he is drawn. The one limit that 
must not be overpassed is that some reference to the qualities and 
structure of things in environment remain. Otherwise, the artist 
works in a purely private frame of reference and the outcome is 
without sense, even if vivid colors or loud sounds are present. 
The distance between scientific forms and concrete objects shows 
the extent to which different arts may carry their selective trans¬ 
formations without losing reference to the objective frame of 
reference. 

The nudes of Renoir give delight with no pornographic 
suggestion. The voluptuous qualities of flesh are retained, even 
accentuated. But conditions of the physical existence of nude 
bodies have been abstracted from. Through abstraction and by 
means of the medium of color, ordinary associations with bare 
bodies are transferred into a new realm, for these associations 
are practical stimuli which disappear in the work of art. The 
esthetic expels the physical, and the heightening of qualities 
common to flesh with flowers ejects the erotic. The conception 
that objects have fixed and unalterable values is precisely the 
prejudice from which art emancipates us. The intrinsic qualities 
of things come out with startling vigor and freshness just because 
conventional associations are removed. 

The moot problem of the place of the ugly in works 
of art seems to me to receive its solution when its terms are seen 
in this context. That to which the word “ugly” is applied is the 
object in its customary associations, those which have come to 



96 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


appear an inherent part of some object. It does not apply to what 
is present in the picture or drama. There is transformation be¬ 
cause of emergence in an object having its own expressiveness: 
exactly as in the case of Renoir’s nudes. Something which was 
ugly under other conditions, the usual ones, is extracted from 
the conditions in which it was repulsive and is transfigured in 
quality as it becomes a part of an expressive whole. In its new 
setting, the very contrast with a former ugliness adds piquancy, 
animation, and, in serious matters, increases depth of meaning 
in an almost incredible way. 

The peculiar power of tragedy to leave us at the end with 
a sense of reconciliation rather than with one of horror forms 
the theme of one of the oldest discussions of literary art.* I quote 
one theory which is relevant to the present discussion. Samuel 
Johnson said: “The delight of tragedy proceeds from our con¬ 
sciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real 
they would please us no more.” This explanation seems to be con¬ 
structed on the model of the small boy’s statement that pins had 
saved many persons’ lives “on account of their not swallowing 
them.” The absence of reality in the dramatic event is, indeed, a 
negative condition of the effect of tragedy. But fictitious killing is 
not therefore pleasant. The positive fact is that a particular sub¬ 
ject matter in being removed from its practical context has entered 
into a new whole as an integral part of it. In its new relation¬ 
ships, it acquires a new expression. It becomes a qualitative part 
of a new qualitative design. Mr. Colvin after quoting from John¬ 
son the passage just cited, adds: “So does our peculiar con¬ 
sciousness of pleasure in watching the fencing match in ‘As You 
Like It,’ depend on our consciousness of fiction.” Here, too, a 
negative condition is treated as a positive force. “Consciousness 
of fiction” is a backhanded way of expressing something that in 

*1 cannot but think that the amount of thought which has been 
devoted to finding ingenious explanations for the Aristotelian idea of catharsis 
Is due rather to the fascination of the topic than to any subtlety on Aristotle's 
part The sixty or more meanings that have been given to it seem unnecessary 
in view of his own literal statement that persons are given to excessive emo¬ 
tion, and that as religious music cures people in religious frenzy “like persons 
cured by a drug,” so the excessively timid and compassionate, and all suffering 
from over-intense emotions, are purged by melodies, and the relief is agree¬ 
able. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


97 


itself is intensely positive: the consciousness of an integral whole 
in which an incident gets a new qualitative value. 


IN discussing the act of expression, we saw that the conversion 
of an act of immediate discharge into one of expression depends 
upon existence of conditions that impede direct manifestation 
and that switch it into a channel where it is coordinated with 
other impulsions. The inhibition of the original raw emotion is 
not a suppression of it; restraint is not, in art, identical with 
constraint. The impulsion is modified by collateral tendencies; the 
modification gives it added meaning—the meaning of the whole of 
which it is henceforth a constituent part. In esthetic perception, 
there are two modes of collateral and cooperative response which 
are involved in the change of direct discharge into an act of 
expression. These two ways of subordination and reenforcement 
explain the expressiveness of the perceived object. By their means, 
a particular incident ceases to be a stimulus to direct action and 
becomes a value of a perceived object. 

The first of these collateral factors is the existence of 
motor dispositions previously formed. A surgeon, golfer, ball 
player, as well as a dancer, painter, or violin-player has at hand 
and under command certain motor sets of the body. Without 
them, no complex skilled act can be performed. An inexpert hunts¬ 
man has buck fever when he suddenly comes upon the game he 
has been pursuing. He does not have effective lines of motor 
response ready and waiting. His tendencies to action therefore 
conflict and get In the way of one another, and the result is con¬ 
fusion, a whirl and blur. The old hand at the game may be emo¬ 
tionally stirred also. But he works off his emotion by directing his 
response along channels prepared in advance: steady holding of 
eye and hand, sighting of rifle, etc. If we substitute a painter or 
a poet in the circumstances of suddenly coming upon a graceful 
deer in a green and sun-specked forest, there is also diversion of 
immediate response into collateral channels. He does not get 
ready to shoot, but neither does he permit his response to diffuse 
itself at random through his whole body. The motor coordinations 
that are ready because of prior experience at once render his per¬ 
ception of the situation more acute and intense and incorporate 



98 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


into it meanings that give it depth, while they also cause what 
is seen to fall into fitting rhythms. 

I have been speaking from the standpoint of the one who 
acts. But precisely similar considerations hold from the side of 
the perceiver. There must be indirect and collateral channels of 
response prepared in advance in the case of one who really sees 
the picture or hears the music. This motor preparation is a large 
part of esthetic education in any particular line. To know what 
to look for and how to see it is an affair of readiness on the part 
of motor equipment. A skilled surgeon is the one who appreciates 
the artistry of another surgeon’s performance; he follows it sym¬ 
pathetically, though not overtly, in his own body. The one who 
knows something about the relation of the movements of the 
piano-player to the production of music from the piano will hear 
something the mere layman does not perceive—just as the expert 
performer “fingers” music while engaged in reading a score. 
One does not have to know much about mixing paints on a palette 
or about the brush-strokes that transfer pigments to canvas to 
see the picture in the painting. But it is necessary that there be 
ready defined channels of motor response, due in part to native 
constitution and in part to education through experience. Emo¬ 
tion may be stirred and yet be as irrelevant to the act of percep¬ 
tion as it is to the action of the hunter seized by buck-fever. It is 
not too much to say that emotion that lacks proper motor lines 
of operation will be so undirected as to confuse and distort per¬ 
ception. 

But something is needed to cooperate with defined motor 
lines of response. An unprepared person at the theater may be so 
ready to take an active part in what is going on—-in helping the 
hero and foiling the villain as he would like to do in real life—as 
not to see the play. But a blase critic may permit his trained 
modes of technical response—ultimately always motor—to con¬ 
trol him to such an extent that, while he skillfully apprehends how 
things are done, he does not care for what is expressed. The 
other factor that is required in order that a work may be expres¬ 
sive to a percipient is meanings and values extracted from 
prior experiences and funded in such a way that they fuse with 
the qualities directly presented in the work of art. Technical re¬ 
sponses, if not held in balance with such secondary supplied 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


99 


material, are so purely technical that the expressiveness of the 
object is narrowly limited. But if the allied material of former 
experiences does not directly blend with the qualities of the poem 
or painting, they remain extraneous suggestions, not part of the 
expressiveness of the object itself. 

I have avoided the use of the word “association” because 
traditional psychology supposes that associated material and the 
immediate color or sound that evokes it remain separate from 
one another. It does not admit of the possibility of a fusion so 
complete as to incorporate both members in a single whole. This 
psychology holds that direct sensuous quality is one thing, and 
an idea or image which it calls out or suggests is another distinct 
mental item. The esthetic theory based on this psychology can¬ 
not admit that the suggesting and the suggested may interpene¬ 
trate and form a unity in which present sense quality confers 
vividness of realization while the material evoked supplies con¬ 
tent and depth. 

The issue that i's involved has a much greater import for 
the philosophy of esthetics than appears at first sight. The ques¬ 
tion of the relation that exists between direct sensuous matter and 
that which is incorporated with it because of prior experiences, 
goes to the heart of the expressiveness of an object. Failure to 
see that what takes place is not external “association” but is 
internal and intrinsic integration has led to two opposed and 
equally false conceptions of the nature of expression. According 
to one theory, esthetic expressiveness belongs to the direct sen¬ 
suous qualities, what is added by suggestion only rendering the 
object more interesting but not becoming a part of its esthetic 
being. The other theory takes the opposite tack, and imputes 
expressiveness wholly to associated material. 

The expressiveness of lines as mere lines is offered as 
proof that esthetic value belongs to sense qualities in and of 
themselves; their status may serve as a test of the theory. Differ¬ 
ent kinds of lines, straight and curved, and among the straight 
the horizontal and vertical, and among curves those that are 
closed and those that droop and rise, have different immediate 
esthetic qualities. Of this fact there is no doubt. But the theory 
under consideration holds that their peculiar expressiveness can 
be explained without any reference beyond the immediate sensory 



100 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


apparatus directly involved. It is held that the dry stiffness of 
a straight line is due to the fact that the eye in seeing tends to 
change direction, to move in tangents, so that it acts under 
coercion when compelled to move straight on, so that, in conse¬ 
quence, the experienced result is unpleasant. Curved lines, on the 
other hand, are agreeable because they conform to the natural 
tendencies of the eye’s own movements. 

It is admitted that this factor probably does have some¬ 
thing to do with the mere pleasantness or unpleasantness of the 
experience. But the problem of expressiveness is not touched. 
While the optical apparatus may be isolated in anatomical dis¬ 
section, it never functions in isolation. It operates in connection 
with the hand in reaching for things and in exploring their sur¬ 
face, in guiding manipulation of things, in directing locomotion. 
This fact has for its consequence the other fact that the sense- 
qualities coming to us by means of the optical apparatus are 
simultaneously bound up with those that come to us from objects 
through collateral activities. The roundness seen is that of balls; 
angles perceived are the result not just of switches in the eye- 
movements but are properties of books and boxes handled; 
curves are the arch of the sky, the dome of a building; horizontal 
lines are seen as the spread of the ground, the edges of things 
around us. This factor is so continually and so unfailingly involved 
in every use of the eyes that the visually experienced qualities 
of lines cannot possibly be referred to the action of the eyes alone. 

Nature, in other words, does not present us with lines in 
isolation. As experienced, they are the lines of objects; bound¬ 
aries of things. They define the shapes by which we ordinarily 
recognize objects about us. Hence lines, even when we try to 
ignore everything else and gaze upon them in isolation, carry 
over the meaning of the objects of which they have been con¬ 
stituent parts. They are expressive of the natural scenes they 
have defined for us. While fines demarcate and define objects, 
they also assemble and connect. One who has run into a sharply 
projecting comer will appreciate the aptness of the term “acute” 
angle. Objects with widely spreading lines often have that gaping 
quality so stupid that we call it “obtuse.” That is to say, lines 
express the ways in which things act upon one another and upon 
us; the ways in which, when objects act together, they reenforce 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


101 


and interfere. For this reason, lines are wavering, upright, 
oblique, crooked, majestic; for this reason they seem in direct 
perception to have even moral expressiveness. They are earth- 
bound and aspiring; intimate and coldly aloof; enticing and 
repellent. They carry with them the properties of objects. 

The habitual properties of lines cannot be got rid of 
even in an experiment that endeavors to isolate the experience 
of lines from everything else. The properties of objects that lines 
define and of movements they relate are too deeply embedded. 
These properties are resonances of a multitude of experiences in 
which, in our concern with objects, we are not even aware of 
lines as such. Different lines and different relations of lines 
have become subconsciously charged with all the values that 
result from what they have done in our experience in our every 
contact with the world about us. The expressiveness of lines 
and space relations in painting cannot be understood upon any 
other basis. 

The other theory denies that immediate sense qualities 
have any expressiveness; it holds that sense serves merely as an 
external vehicle by which other meanings are conveyed to us. 
Vernon Lee, herself an artist of undoubted sensitiveness, has 
developed this theory most consistently, and in a way, which, 
while it has something in common with the German theory of 
Elnjuehling or empathy, avoids the idea that our esthetic per¬ 
ception is a projection into objects of an internal mimicry of 
their properties, one which we dramatically enact when we look 
at them—a theory that, in turn, is hardly more than an animistic 
version of the classic theory of representation. 

According to Vernon Lee, as well as to some other theorists 
in the field of esthetics, “art” signifies a group of activities that 
are, respectively, recording, constructive, logical and communica¬ 
tive. There is nothing esthetic about art itself. The products of 
these arts become esthetic “in response to a totally different desire 
having its own reasons, standard, imperative.” This “totally dif¬ 
ferent” desire is the desire for shapes, and this desire arises 
because of the need for satisfaction of congruous relations among 
our modes of motor imagery. Hence direct sensuous qualities 
like those of color and tone are irrelevant. The demand for shapes 
is satisfied when our motor imagery reenacts the relations em- 



102 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


bodied in an object—as, for example, “the fan-like arrangement 
of sharply convergent lines and exquisitely phrased skyline of 
hills, picked up at intervals into sharp crests and dropping down 
merely to rush up again in long rapid concave curves.” 

Sensory qualities are said to be non-esthetic because, unlike 
the relations we actively enact, they are forced upon us and tend 
to overwhelm us. What counts is what we do, not what we receive. 
The essential thing esthetically is our own mental activity of 
starting, traveling, returning to a starting point, holding on to the 
past, carrying it along; the movement of attention backwards 
and forwards, as these acts are executed by the mechanism of 
motor imagery. The resulting relations define shape and shape is 
wholly a matter of relations. They “transform what would other¬ 
wise be meaningless juxtapositions or sequences of sensations into 
the significant entities which can be remembered and cognized 
even when their constituent sensations are completely altered, 
namely, into shapes.” The outcome is empathy in its true mean¬ 
ing. It deals not “directly with mood and emotion but with 
dynamic conditions which enter into moods and emotions and 
take their names from them.... The various and variously com¬ 
bined dramas enacted by lines and curves and angles take place 
not in the marble or pigment embodying the contemplated shapes, 
but solely in ourselves .... And since we are their only real actors, 
these empathic dramas of lines are bound to affect us, whether 
as corroborating or as thwarting our vital needs and habits.” 
(Italics not in the original text.) 

The theory is significant in the thoroughness with which 
it separates sense and relations, matter and form, the active and 
the receptive, phases of experience, and in its logical statement 
of what happens when they are separated. The recognition of 
the roles of relations and of activity on our part (the latter being 
physiologically mediated in all probability by our motor mecha¬ 
nisms) is welcome in contrast with theories that recognize only 
sense-qualities as they are passively received and undergone. 
But a theory that regards color in painting as esthetically irrele¬ 
vant, that holds that tones in music are merely something upon 
which esthetic relations are superimposed, hardly seems to need 
refutation. 

The two theories that have been criticized complement 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


103 


each other. But the truth of esthetic theory cannot be arrived 
at by a mechanical addition of one theory to the other. The 
expressiveness of the object of art is due to the fact that it pre¬ 
sents a thorough and complete interpenetration of the materials 
of undergoing and of action, the latter including a reorganization 
of matter brought with us from past experience. For, in the inter¬ 
penetration, the latter is material not added by way of external 
association nor yet by way of superimposition upon sense quali¬ 
ties. The expressiveness of the object is the report and cele¬ 
bration of the complete fusion of what we undergo and what our 
activity of attentive perception brings into what we receive by 
means of the senses. 

The reference to corroboration of our vital needs and 
habits deserves notice. Are these vital needs and habits purely 
formal? Can they be satisfied through relations alone, or do they 
demand to be fed by the matter of color and sound? That the 
latter is the case seems to be implicitly admitted when Vernon 
Lee goes on to say that “art so far from delivering us from the 
sense of really living, intensifies and amplifies those states of 
serenity of which we are given the sample, too rare, too small and 
too alloyed in the course of our normal practical life.” Exactly so. 
But the experiences that art intensifies and amplifies neither 
exist solely inside ourselves, nor do they consist of relations apart 
from matter. The moments when the creature is both most alive 
and most composed and concentrated are those of fullest inter¬ 
course with the environment, in which sensuous material and 
relations are most completely merged. Art would not amplify 
experience if it withdrew the self into the self nor would the 
experience that results from such retirement be expressive. 


BOTH of the theories considered separate the live creature from 
the world in which it lives; lives by interaction through a 
series of related doings and undergoings, which when they are 
schematized by psychology, are motor and sensory. The first 
theory finds in organic activity isolated from the events and scenes 
of the world a sufficient cause of the expressive nature of certain 
sensations. The other theory locates the esthetic element “solely 
in ourselves,” through enacting of motor relations in “shapes.” 



104 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


But the process of living is continuous; it possesses continuity 
because it is an everlastingly renewed process of acting upon the 
environment and being acted upon by it together with institution 
of relations between what is done and what is undergone. Hence 
experience is necessarily cumulative and its subject matter gains 
expressiveness because of cumulative continuity. The world we 
have experienced becomes an integral part of the self that acts 
and is acted upon in further experience. In their physical occur¬ 
rence, things and events experienced pass and are gone. But 
something of their meaning and value is retained as an integral 
part of the self. Through habits formed in intercourse with the 
world, we also in-habit the world. It becomes a home and the 
home is part of our every experience. 

How, then, can objects of experience avoid becoming 
expressive? Yet apathy and torpor conceal this expressiveness 
by building a shell about objects. Familiarity induces indifference, 
prejudice blinds us; conceit looks through the wrong end of 
a telescope and minimizes the significance possessed by objects 
in favor of the alleged importance of the self. Art throws off 
the covers that hide the expressiveness of experienced things; 
it quickens us from the slackness of routine and enables us to 
forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experi¬ 
encing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms. It 
intercepts every shade of expressiveness found in objects and 
orders them in a new experience of life. 

Because the objects of art are expressive, they communi¬ 
cate. I do not say that communication to others is the intent 
of an artist. But it is the consequence of his work—which indeed 
lives only in communication when it operates in the experience 
of others. If the artist desires to communicate a special message, 
he thereby tends to limit the expressiveness of his work to others 
—whether he wishes to communicate a moral lesson or a sense of 
his own cleverness. Indifference to response of the immediate 
audience is a necessary trait of all artists that have something 
new to say. But they are animated by a deep conviction that since 
they can only say what they have to say, the trouble is not with 
their work but those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, 
hear not Communicability has nothing to do with popularity. 

I can but think that much of what Tolstoi says about 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


105 


immediate contagion as a test of artistic quality is false, and what he 
says about the kind of material which can alone be communicated is 
narrow. But if the time span be extended, it is true that no man 
is eloquent save when some one is moved as he listens. Those 
who are moved feel, as Tolstoi says, that what the work expresses 
is as if it were something one had oneself been longing to express. 
Meantime, the artist works to create an audience to which he 
does communicate. In the end, works of art are the only media 
of complete and unhindered communication between man and 
man that can occur in a world full of gulfs and walls that limit 
community of experience. 



CHAPTER YJ 


SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


B ECAUSE objects of art are expressive, they are a language. 

Rather they are many languages. For each art has its own 
medium and that medium is especially fitted for one kind of 
communication. Each medium says something that cannot be 
uttered as well or as completely in any other tongue. The needs 
of daily life have given superior practical importance to one 
mode of communication, that of speech. This fact has unfortu¬ 
nately given rise to a popular impression that the meanings ex¬ 
pressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, and music can be 
translated into words with little if any loss. In fact, each art 
speaks an idiom that conveys what cannot be said in another 
language and yet remains the same. 

Language exists only when it is listened to as well as 
spoken. The hearer is an indispensable partner. The work of art 
is complete only as it works in the experience of others than the 
one who created it. Thus language involves what logicians call 
a triadic relation. There is the speaker, the thing said, and the 
one spoken to. The external object, the product of art, is the con¬ 
necting link between artist and audience. Even when the artist 
works in solitude all three terms are present. The work is there 
in progress, and the artist has to become vicariously the receiving 
audience. He can speak only as his work appeals to him as one 
spoken to through what he perceives. He observes and understands 
as a third person might note and interpret. Matisse is reported to 
have said: “When a painting is finished, it is like a new-born 
child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it.” 
It must be lived with as a child is lived with, if we are to grasp 
the meaning of his being. 

All language, whatever its medium, involves what is said 
and how it is said, or substance and form. The great ques¬ 
tion concerning substance and form is: Does matter come first 

106 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


107 


ready-made, and search for a discovery of form in which to em¬ 
body it come afterwards? Or is the whole creative effort of the 
artist an endeavor to form material so that it will be in actuality 
the authentic substance of a work of art? The question goes far 
and deep. The answer given it determines the issue of many other 
controverted points in esthetic criticism. Is there one esthetic 
value belonging to sense materials and another to a form that 
renders them expressive? Are all subjects fit for esthetic treatment 
or only a few which are set aside for that end by their intrinsi¬ 
cally superior character? Is “beauty” another name for form 
descending from without, as a transcendent essence, upon ma¬ 
terial, or is it a name for the esthetic quality that appears when¬ 
ever material is formed in a way that renders it adequately 
expressive? Is form, in its esthetic sense, something that uniquely 
marks off as esthetic from the beginning a certain realm of ob¬ 
jects, or is it the abstract name for what emerges whenever an 
experience attains complete development? 

All of these questions have been implicit in the discussions 
of the three previous chapters, and by implication have been 
answered. If an art product is taken to be one of $e//-expression 
and the self is regarded as something complete and self-con¬ 
tained in isolation, then of course substance and form fall apart. 
That in which a self-revelation is clothed, is, by the underlying 
assumption, external to the things expressed. The externality 
persists no matter which of the two is regarded as form and which 
as substance. It is also clear that if there be no self-expression, no 
free play of individuality, the product will of necessity be but an 
instance of a species; it will lack the freshness and originality 
found only in things that are individual on their own account. 
Here is a point from which the relation of form and substance 
may be approached. 

The material out of which a work of art is composed be¬ 
longs to the common world rather than to the self, and yet there 
is self-expression in art because the self assimilates that material 
in a distinctive way to reissue it into the public world in a form 
that builds a new object. This new object may have as its con¬ 
sequence similar reconstructions, recreations, of old and common 
material on the part of those who perceive it, and thus in time 
come to be established as part of the acknowledged world—as 



108 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


“universal.” The material expressed cannot be private; that is 
the state of the mad-house. But the manner of saying it is indi¬ 
vidual, and, if the product is to be a work of art, induplicable. 
Identity of mode of production defines the work of a machine, 
the esthetic counterpart of which is the academic. The quality 
of a work of art is sui generis because the manner in which genera* 
material is rendered transforms it into a substance that is fresh 
and vital. 

What is true of the producer is true of the perceiver. He 
may perceive academically, looking for identities with which he 
already is familiar; or learnedly, pedantically, looking for material 
to fit into a history or article he wishes to write, or sentimentally 
for illustrations of some theme emotionally dear. But if he per¬ 
ceives esthetically, he will create an experience of which the 
intrinsic subject matter, the substance, is new. An English critic, 
Mr. A. C. Bradley, has said that “poetry being poems, we are to 
think of a poem as it actually exists; and an actual poem is a 
succession of experiences—sounds, images, thought-through 
which we pass when we read a poem.... A poem exists in un- 
numberable degrees.” And it is also true that it exists in unnum- 
berable qualities or kinds, no two readers having exactly the same 
experience, according to the “forms,” or manners of response 
brought to it. A new poem is created by every one who reads 
poetically—not that its raw material is original for, after all, we 
live in the same old world, but that every individual brings with 
him, when he exercises his individuality, a way of seeing and 
feeling that in its interaction with old material creates something 
new, something previously not existing in experience. 

A work of art no matter how old and classic is actually, 
not just potentially, a work of art only when it lives in some indi¬ 
vidualized experience. As a piece of parchment, of marble, of 
canvas, it remains (subject to the ravages of time) self-identical 
throughout the ages. But as a work of art, it is recreated every 
time it is esthetically experienced. No one doubts this fact in the 
rendering of a musical score; no one supposes that the lines and 
dots on paper are more than the recorded means of evoking the 
work of art. But what is true of it is equally true of the Parthenon 
as a building. It is absurd to ask what an artist “really” meant 
by his product; he himself would find different meanings in it at 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


109 


different days and hours and in different stages of his own de¬ 
velopment. If he could be articulate, he would say “I meant just 
that, and that means whatever you or any one can honestly, that 
is in virtue of your own vital experience, get out of it.” Any other 
idea makes the boasted “universality” of the work of art a 
synonym for monotonous identity. The Parthenon, or whatever, is 
universal because it can continuously inspire new personal real* 
izations in experience. 

It is simply an impossibility that any one today should 
experience the Parthenon as the devout Athenian contemporary 
citizen experienced it, any more than the religious statuary of the 
twelfth century can mean, esthetically, even to a good Catholic 
today just what it meant to the worshipers of the old period. The 
“works” that fail to become new are not those which are uni¬ 
versal but those which are “dated.” The enduring art-product 
may have been, and probably was, called forth by something occa¬ 
sional, something having its own date and place. But what was 
evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experi¬ 
ences of others and enable them to have more intense and more 
fully rounded out experiences of their own. 

This is what it is to have form. It marks a way of envisag¬ 
ing, of feeling, and of presenting experienced matter so that it 
most readily and effectively becomes material for the construction 
of adequate experience on the part of those less gifted than the 
original creator. Hence there can be no distinction drawn, save in 
reflection, between form and substance. The work itself is matter 
formed into esthetic substance. The critic, the theorist, as a reflec¬ 
tive student of the art product, however, not only may but must 
draw a distinction between them. Any skilled observer of a 
pugilist or a golf-player will, I suppose, institute distinctions 
between what is done and how it is done—between the knock¬ 
out and the manner of the delivery of a blow; between the ball 
driven so many yards to such and such a line and the way the 
drive was executed. The artist, the one engaged in doing, will 
effect a similar distinction when he is interested in correcting an 
habitual error, or learning how better to secure a given effect. 
Yet the act itself is exactly what it is because of how it is done. 
In the act there is no distinction, but perfect integration of man¬ 
ner and content, form and substance. 



110 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


The author just quoted, Mr. Bradley, in an essay on Poetry 
for Poetry's Sake, draws a distinction between subject and sub¬ 
stance which may well form the start of our further discussion 
of this matter. The distinction may, I think, be paraphrased as 
that between matter for and matter in artistic production. The 
subject or "matter for” is capable of being indicated and de¬ 
scribed in other fashion than that of the art-product itself. The 
“matter in,” the actual substance, is the art object itself and 
hence cannot be expressed in any other way. The subject for Mil¬ 
ton’s "Paradise Lost” is, as Bradley says, the fall of man in 
connection with the revolt of the angels—a theme already current 
in Christian circles and readily identifiable by any one familiar 
with the Christian tradition. The substance of the poem, the 
esthetic matter, is the poem itself; what became of the subject 
as it underwent Milton’s imaginative treatment. Similarly, one 
can tell another in words the subject of the "Ancient Mariner.” 
But to convey to him its substance one would have to expose him 
to the poem and let the latter have its way with him. 

The distinction that Bradley draws with respect to poems 
is equally applicable to every art, even architecture. The "sub¬ 
ject” of the Parthenon is Pallas Athene, the Virgin Goddess, the 
presiding divinity of the city of Athens. If one will take a multi¬ 
tude of art products of all kinds and sorts and keep them in mind 
long enough to assign a subject to each, one will see that the 
substance of works of art dealing with the same "subject” is 
infinitely varied. How many poems are there in all languages 
having flowers, or even the rose, for their "subject”? Hence 
changes in art products are not arbitrary; they do not proceed, 
even when quite revolutionary, (as one school of critics always 
assumes) from the unregulated wish of undisciplined men to 
produce something new and startling. They are inevitable as the 
common things of the world are experienced in different cultures 
and different personalities. The subject that meant so much to 
the Athenian citizen of the fourth century b.c. is hardly more 
than a historic incident today. An English Protestant of the 
seventeenth century who savored to the full the theme of Milton’s 
epic may have been so out of sympathy with the topic and setting 
of Dante’s "Divine Comedy” as to be unable to appreciate the 
latter’s artistic quality. Today an “unbeliever” may be the one 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


III 


who is most sensitive esthetically to such poems, just because of 
indifference to their antecedent subject-matter. On the other 
hand, many an observer of pictures is now unable to do full 
justice to the painting of Poussin in its intrinsic plastic qualities 
because its classical themes are so alien. 

The subject, as Bradley says, is outside the poem; the 
substance is within it; rather, it is the poem. “Subject,” however, 
itself varies over a wide range. It may be hardly more than a 
label; it may be the occasion that called out the work; or it may 
be the subject-matter which as raw material entered into the new 
experience of the artist and found transformation. The poems of 
Keats and Shelley on the sky-lark and nightingale probably did 
not have the songs of these birds alone for an occasioning stimu¬ 
lus. It is well, then, for the sake of clarity to discriminate not 
only substance from theme or topic, but both of them from 
antecedent subject-matter. The “subject” of the “Ancient 
Mariner” is the killing of an albatross by a sailor and what hap¬ 
pened in consequence thereof. Its matter is the poem itself. 
Its subject-matter is all the experiences a reader brings with him 
of cruelty and pity in connection with a living creature. The artist 
himself can hardly begin with a subject alone. If he did, his 
work would almost surely suffer from artificiality. First comes 
subject-matter, then the substance or matter of the work; finally 
the determination of topic or theme. 

Antecedent subject-matter is not instantaneously changed 
into the matter of a work of art in the mind of an artist. It is a 
developing process. As we have already seen, the artist finds where 
he is going because of what he has previously done; that is, the 
original excitation and stir of some contact with the world under¬ 
go successive transformation. That state of the matter he has 
arrived at sets up demands to be fulfilled and it institutes 
a framework that limits further operations. As the experience of 
transforming subject-matter into the very substance of the work 
of art proceeds, incidents and scenes that figured at first may drop 
out and others take their place, being drawn in by the suction of 
the qualitative material that aroused the original excitement. 

The theme or subject, on the other hand, may be of no 
significance at all save for purposes of practical identification. I 
once saw a lecturer on painting obtain a cheap laugh from his 



112 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


audience by showing a cubistic picture and asking the audience 
to guess what it was about. He then told them its title—as if that 
were either its subject-matter or its substance. The artist had 
labeled his picture for some reason best known to himself, whether 
pour epater les bourgeois or because of its occasion, or because 
of some subtle affinity of quality, by the name of a historic per 
sonage. The implication of the lecturer and of the audience’s 
laugh was that the obvious disparity between the title and the 
visible picture was somehow a reflection on the esthetic qualities 
of the latter. No one would allow his perception of the Parthenon 
to be influenced by the fact that he did not happen to know the 
signification of the word by which the building is called. Yet the 
fallacy exists, especially in connection with pictures, in many ways 
much more subtle than that illustrated by the incident of the 
lecture. 

Titles are, so to say, social matters. They identify object*, 
for easy reference, so that one knows what is meant when a 
symphony of Beethoven’s is called the “Fifth” or when Titian’s 
“Entombment” is mentioned. A poem of Wordsworth’s may be 
specified by name, but it might be identified as the poem found 
on a certain page of a given edition, as well as by being called 
“Lucy Gray.” Rembrandt’s painting can be named the “Jewish 
Wedding,” or that which hangs on a certain wall of a particular 
room in the Amsterdam gallery. Musicians usually call their works 
by number with perhaps an indication of the key. Painters prefer 
vague titles. Thus artists, perhaps unconsciously, strive to escape 
from the general tendency to link an object of art with some 
scene or course of events that listeners and spectators recog¬ 
nize from their prior experience. A picture may be cata¬ 
logued merely “River at Twilight.” Even then, many persons will 
suppose they must carry into their experience of it some remem¬ 
bered river once seen at that particular hour. But in such treat¬ 
ment the picture in so far ceases to be a picture and becomes an 
inventory or document, as if it were a colored photograph taken 
for historical or geological purposes or to serve the business of a 
detective. 

The distinctions made are elementary; but they are basic in 
esthetic theory. Wheri there is an end of confusion of subject and 
substance, there will also be an end, for example, of the am- 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


193 


biguities regarding representation such as have been discussed. 
Mr. Bradley calls attention to the common tendency to treat a 
work of art as a mere reminder of something, by the illustration 
of the sight-seer in a picture-gallery who remarks as he moves 
along, ‘This picture is so like my cousin,” or that picture “the 
image of my birthplace,” and who, after satisfying himself that 
one painting is about Elijah, passes on rejoicing to discover the 
subject and nothing but the subject of the next one. Unless the 
radical difference between subject and substance is appreciated, 
not only does the casual visitor go wrong, but critics and theorists 
judge objects of art in terms of their preconceptions as to what 
the subject-matter of art ought to be. The time is not far remote 
when the proper thing to say about the dramas of Ibsen was that 
they are “sordid”; and paintings that modify subject-matter In 
accordance with requirements of esthetic form in ways that in¬ 
volve distortion of physical shape are condemned as arbitrary 
and capricious. The painter’s just retort to such a misunderstand¬ 
ing is found in a remark of Matisse. When some one complained 
to him that she had never seen a woman who looked like the one 
in his painting, he replied: “Madam, that is not a woman; that is 
a picture.” The critics who drag in extraneous subject-matter- 
historical, moral, sentimental, or in the guise of established canons 
that prescribe proper themes—may be vastly superior in learn¬ 
ing to the guide in the gallery who says nothing about paintings 
as pictures and a great deal about the occasions which produced 
them and the sentimental associations they arouse, the majesty of 
Mount Blanc or the tragedy of Anne Boleyn; but esthetically 
they stand on the same level. 

The city man who lived in the country when he was a 
boy is given to purchasing pictures of green meadows with graz¬ 
ing cattle or purling brooks—especially if there is also a swim¬ 
ming hole. He obtains from such pictures a revival of certain 
values of his childhood minus attendant back-breaking experi¬ 
ences, plus, indeed, an added emotional value because of contrast 
with a present well-to-do estate. In all such cases the picture is 
not seen. The painting is used as a spring board for arriving at 
sentiments that are, because of extraneous subject-matter, agree¬ 
able. The subject-matter of experiences of childhood and youth is 
nevertheless a subconscious background of much great art. But 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


H4 

to be the substance of art, it must be made into a new object by 
means of the medium employed, not merely suggested in a 
reminiscent way* 


THE fact that form and matter are connected in a work of 
art does not mean they are identical. It signifies that in the 
work of art they do not offer themselves as two distinct things: 
the work is formed matter. But they are legitimately distinguished 
when reflection sets in, as it does in criticism and in theory. We 
are then compelled to inquire as to the formal structure of the 
work, and in order to carry on this inquiry intelligently, we must 
have a conception of what form is generically. We may get a key 
to this idea by starting from the fact that one idiomatic use of the 
word makes it equivalent with shape or figure. Especially in con¬ 
nection with pictures is form frequently identified simply with 
the patterns defined by linear outlines of shapes. Now shape 
is only an element in esthetic form; it does not constitute it. In 
ordinary perception we recognize and identify things by their 
shapes; even words and sentences have shapes, when heard as 
well as when seen. Consider how a misplaced accent disturbs 
recognition more than does any other kind of mispronunciation. 

For shape in relation to recognition is not limited to geo¬ 
metric or spatial properties. The latter play a part only as they 
are subordinated to adaptation to an end . Shapes that are not in 
our minds associated with any function are hard to grasp and 
retain. The shapes of spoons, knives, forks, household articles, 
pieces of furniture, are means of identification because of 
their association with purpose. Up to a certain point, then, shape 
is allied with form in its artistic sense. In both there is organiza¬ 
tion of constituent parts. In some sense the typical shape of even 
a utensil and tool indicates that the meaning of the whole has 
entered into the parts to qualify them. This is the fact that has 
led some theorists, like Herbert Spencer, to identify the source 
of “beauty” with efficient and economical adaptation of parts to 
the function of a whole. In some cases fitness is indeed so ex¬ 
quisite as to constitute visible grace independent of the thought 
of any utility. But this special case indicates the way in which 
shape and form differ generically. For there is more to grace than 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


115 


just lack of clumsiness, in the sense in which “clumsy” means 
inefficiency of adaptation to an end. In shape as such adaptation 
is intrinsically limited to a particular end—like that of a spoon 
for carrying liquids to the mouth. The spoon that in addition has 
that esthetic form called grace bears no such limitation. 

A good deal of intellectual effort has been expended in 
trying to identify efficiency for a particular end with “beauty” 
or esthetic quality. But these attempts are bound to fail, fortunate 
as it is that in some cases the two coincide and humanly desirable 
as it is that they should always meet. For adaptation to a par¬ 
ticular end is often (always in the case of complicated affairs) 
something perceived by thought, while esthetic effect is found 
directly in sense-perception. A chair may serve the purpose of 
affording a comfortable and hygienically efficient seat, without 
serving at the same time the needs of the eye. If, on the con¬ 
trary, it blocks rather than promotes the role of vision in an 
experience, it will be ugly no matter how well adapted to use as 
a seat. There is no preestablished harmony that guarantees that 
what satisfies the need of one set of organs will fulfill that of all 
the other structures and needs that have a part in the experi¬ 
ence, so as to bring it to completion as a complex of all ele¬ 
ments. All we can say is that in the absence of disturbing contexts, 
such as production of objects for a maximum of private profit, 
a balance tends to be struck so that objects will be satisfactory— 
“useful” in the strict sense—to the self as a whole, even though 
some specific efficiency be sacrificed in the process. In so far 
there is a tendency for dynamic shape (as distinguished from 
bare geometric figure) to blend with artistic form. 

Early in the history of philosophic thought the value of 
shape in making possible the definition and classification of 
objects was noted and was seized upon as a basis for a meta¬ 
physical theory of the nature of forms. The empirical fact of the 
relationship, effected by arrangement of parts to a definite end 
and use—like that of spoon or table or cup—was wholly neglected 
and even repudiated. Form was treated as something intrinsic, 
as the very essence of a thing in virtue of the metaphysical 
structure of the universe. It is easy to follow the course of rea¬ 
soning that led to this result provided the relation of shape to use 
is once ignored. It is by form—in the sense of adapted shape— 



116 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


that we both identify and distinguish things in perception: chairs 
from tables, a maple from an oak. Since we note—or “know” 
them—in this way, and, since knowledge was believed to be a 
revelation of the true nature of things, it was concluded that 
things are what they are in virtue of having, intrinsically, certain 
forms. 

Moreover, since things are rendered knowable by these 
forms, it was concluded that form is the rational, the intelligible, 
element in the objects and events of the world. Then it was set 
over against “matter,” the latter being the irrational, the in¬ 
herently chaptic and fluctuating, stuff upon which form was im¬ 
pressed. It was as eternal as the latter was shifting. This 
metaphysical distinction of matter and form was embodied in 
the philosophy that ruled European thought for centuries. Be¬ 
cause of this fact it still affects the esthetic philosophy of 
form in relation to matter. It is the source of the bias in favor 
of their separation, especially when that takes the shape of assum¬ 
ing that form has a dignity and stability lacking to matter. Indeed, 
were it not for this background of tradition, it may be doubted 
whether it would occur to any one that there is a problem in their 
relation, so clear would it be that the only distinction important 
in art is that between matter inadequately formed and material 
completely and coherently formed. 

Objects of industrial arts have form—that adapted to 
their special uses. These objects take on esthetic form, whether 
they are rugs, urns, or baskets, when the material is so arranged 
and adapted that it serves immediately the enrichment of the 
immediate experience of the one whose attentive perception is 
directed to it. No material can be adapted to an end, be it that 
of use as spoon or carpet, until raw material has undergone a 
change that shapes the parts and that arranges these parts with 
reference to one another with a view to the purpose of the whole. 
Hence the object has form in a definitive sense. When this form 
is liberated from limitation to a specialized end and serves also 
the purposes of an immediate and vital experience, the form is 
esthetic and not merely useful. 

It is significant that the word “design” has a double 
meaning. It signifies purpose and it signifies arrangement, mode 
of composition. The design of a house is the plan upon which it 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


117 


is constructed to serve the purposes of those who live in it. The 
design of a painting or novel is the arrangement of its elements 
by means of which it becomes an expressive unity in direct per¬ 
ception. In both cases, there is an ordered relation of many con¬ 
stituent elements. The characteristic of artistic design is the 
intimacy of the relations that hold the parts together. In a house 
we have rooms and their arrangement with respect to one another. 
In the work of art, the relations cannot be told apart from what 
they relate except in later reflection. A work of art is poor in 
the degree in which they exist in separation, as in a novel wherein 
plot—the design—is felt to be superimposed upon incidents and 
characters instead of being their dynamic relations to one an¬ 
other. To understand the design of a complicated piece of ma¬ 
chinery we have to know the purpose the machine is intended to 
serve, and how the various parts fit in to the accomplishment of 
that purpose. Design is, as it were, superimposed upon materials 
that do not actually share in it, as privates engage in a battle 
while they have only a passive share in the general’s “design” for 
the battle. 

Only when the constituent parts of a whole have the 
unique end of contributing to the consummation of a conscious 
experience, do design and shape lose superimposed character and 
become form. They cannot do this so long as they serve a special¬ 
ized purpose; while they can serve the inclusive purpose of having 
an experience only when they do not stand out by themselves but 
are fused with all other properties pf the work of art. In dealing 
with the significance of form in painting, Dr. Barnes has brought 
out the necessity for this completeness of blending, the inter¬ 
penetration of “shape” and pattern with color, space, and light. 
Form is, as he says, “the synthesis or fusion of all plastic means 
... their harmonious merging.” On the other hand, pattern in its 
limited sense, or plan and design, “is merely the skeleton upon 
which plastic units... are engrafted.” * 

This interfusion of all properties of the medium is neces¬ 
sary if the object in question is to serve the whole creature in his 
unified vitality. It therefore defines the nature of form in all the 

* "The Art in Painting,” pp. 85 and 87. Chapter I of Book II should 
be consulted. Form in the sense defined is, as is shown there, “the criterion 
of value.” 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


<18 

arts. With respect to a specialized utility, we can characterize 
design as being related to this and that end. One chair has a 
design fitted to give comfort; another, to hygiene; a third, to regal 
splendor. Only when all means are diffused through one another 
does the whole suffuse the parts so as to constitute an experience 
that is unified through inclusion instead of by exclusion. This 
fact confirms the position of the previous chapter as regards 
the union of qualities of direct sensuous vividness with other 
expressive qualities. As long as “meaning” is a matter of associa¬ 
tion and suggestion, it falls apart from the qualities of the.sensuous 
medium and form is disturbed. Sense qualities are the carriers 
of meanings, not as vehicles carry goods but as a mother carries 
a baby when the baby is part of her own organism. Works of 
art, like words, are literally pregnant with meaning. Meanings, 
having their source in past experience, are means by which the 
particular organization that marks a given picture is effected. 
They are not added on by “association” but are either, and 
equally, the soul of which colors are the body or the body of 
which colors are the soul—according as we happen to be con¬ 
cerned with the picture. 

Dr. Barnes has pointed out that not only are intellectual 
meanings carried over from past experiences to add expressive¬ 
ness, but so are qualities that add emotional excitation, whether 
the excitation be of serenity or poignancy. “There are,” as he 
says, “in our minds in solution a vast number of emotional atti¬ 
tudes, feelings ready to be reexcited when the proper stimulus 
arrives, and more than anything else it is these forms, this residue 
of experience, which, fuller and richer than in the mind of the 
ordinary man, constitute the artist's capital. What is called the 
magic of the artist resides in his ability to transfer these values 
from one field of experience to another, to attach them to the 
objects of our common life, and by his imaginative insight make 
these objects poignant and momentous.” * Not colors, not sense 
qualities as such, are either matter or form, but these qualities as 

♦See the chapter on Transferred Values, in the volume on “The Art 
of Henri Matisse”; the quotation is from p. 31. In the chapter, Dr. Bames 
shows how much of the immediate emotional effect of the pictures of Matisse 
is unconsciously transferred from emotional values first connected with 
tapestry, posters, rosettes (including flower-patterns), tiles, stripes and bands, 
as of banners and many other objects. 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


119 


thoroughly imbued, impregnated, with transferred value. And 
then they are either matter or form according to the direction of 
qur interest. 

While some theorists make a distinction between sensu¬ 
ous and borrowed value because of the metaphysical dualism just 
mentioned, others make it from fear lest the work of art be unduly 
intellectualized. They are concerned to emphasize something 
which is in fact an esthetic necessity: the immediacy of esthetic 
experience. It cannot be asserted too strongly that what is not 
immediate is not esthetic. The mistake lies in supposing that only 
certain special things—those attached just to eye, ear, etc.—can 
be qualitatively and immediately experienced. Were it true that 
only qualities coming to us through sense-organs in isolation are 
directly experienced, then, of course, all relational material would 
be superadded by an association that is extraneous—or, according 
to some theorists, by a “synthetic” action of thought. From this 
point of view the strictly esthetic value of say a painting consists 
simply of certain relations and orders of relation that colors 
sustain to one another apart from relation to objects. The expres¬ 
siveness they gain by being present as colors of water, rocks, 
clouds, etc., is due to art. On this basis, there is always a gap 
between the esthetic and the artistic. They are of two radically 
different kinds. 

The psychology underlying this bifurcation was exploded 
in advance by William James when he pointed out that there are 
direct feelings of such relations as “if,” “then,” “and,” “but,” 
“from,” “with.” For he showed that there is no relation so com¬ 
prehensive that it may not become a matter of immediate experi¬ 
ence. Every work of art that ever existed had indeed already 
contradicted the theory in question. It is quite true that certain 
things, namely ideas, exercise a mediating function. But only a 
twisted and aborted logic can hold that because something is 
mediated, it cannot, therefore, be immediately experienced. The 
reverse is the case. We cannot grasp any idea, any organ of 
mediation, we cannot possess it in its full force, until we have 
felt and sensed it, as much so as if it were an odor or a color. 

Those who are especially addicted to thinking as an occu¬ 
pation, are aware when they observe the processes of thought, 
instead of determining by dialectic what they must be, that im- 



120 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


mediate feeling is not limited in its scope. Different ideas have 
their different “feels/’ their immediate qualitative aspects, just 
as much as anything else. One who is thinking his way through 
a complicated problem finds direction on his way by means of 
this property of ideas. Their qualities stop him when he enters the 
wrong path and send him ahead when he hits the right one. They 
are signs of an intellectual “Stop and Go.” If a thinker had to 
work out the meaning of each idea discursively, he would be lost 
in a labyrinth that had no end and no center. Whenever an idea 
loses its immediate felt quality, it ceases to be an idea and be¬ 
comes, like an algebraic symbol, a mere stimulus to execute an 
operation without the need of thinking. For this reason certain 
trains of ideas leading to their appropriate consummation (or 
conclusion) are beautiful or elegant. They have esthetic character. 
In reflection it is often necessary to make a distinction between 
matters of sense and matters of thought. But the distinction does 
not exist in all modes of experience. When there is genuine artistry 
in scientific inquiry and philosophic speculation, a thinker pro¬ 
ceeds neither by rule nor yet blindly, but by means of meanings 
that exist immediately as feelings having qualitative color.* 
Qualities of sense, those of touch and taste as well as 
of sight and hearing, have esthetic quality. But they have it 
no* in isolation but in their connections; as interacting, not as 
simple and separate entities. Nor are connections limited to their 
own kind, colors with colors, sounds with sounds. Even the utmost 
in the way of scientific control never succeeds in getting either 
a “pure” color or a pure spectrum of colors. A ray of light pro¬ 
duced under scientific control does not end sharply and with 
■uniformity. It has vague edges and so internal complexity. More- 
over, it is projected on a background and only thus does it enter 
perception. And the background is not merely one of other hues 
and shades. It has its own qualities. No shadow cast by even the 
thinnest line is ever homogeneous. It is impossible to isolate a 
color from light so that no refraction occurs. Even under the most 
uniform laboratory conditions, a “simple” color will be complex 

♦In connection with this matter, which bears not only on this par¬ 
ticular topic, but on all questions connected with the intelligence that is 
characteristic of any artist, I refer to the essay on Qualitative Thought, 
contained in the volume “Philosophy and Civilization.” 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


!2l 


to the extent of having a bluish edge. And the colors used in 
paintings are not pure spectral colors but are pigments, not pro¬ 
jected on the void but applied on a canvas. 

These elementary observations, are made with reference 
to attempts to carry over alleged scientific findings about sense 
material into esthetics. They show that even on so-called scien¬ 
tific ground there are no experiences of “pure” or “simple” quali¬ 
ties, nor of qualities limited to the range of a single sense. But 
in any case there is an unbridgeable gap between science in the 
laboratory and the work of art. In a painting, colors are presented 
as those of sky, cloud, river, rock, turf, jewel, silk, and so on. 
Even the eye that is artificially trained to see color as color, apart 
from things that colors qualify, cannot shut out the resonances 
and transfers of value due to these objects. Of color qualities it 
is peculiarly true that they are in perception what they are in 
relations of contrast and harmony with other qualities. Those who 
measure a picture by its linear draughtsmanship have attacked 
colorists on this very ground, pointing out that in contrast with 
the stable constancy of line, color is never twice alike, varying 
with every change of light and other conditions. 

In contrast with the attempt to carry over misplaced ab¬ 
stractions of anatomy and psychology into esthetic theory, we 
may well listen to painters. For example, Cezanne says: “Design 
and color are not distinct. In the degree in which color is really 
painted , design exists. The more colors harmonize with one an¬ 
other, the more defined is design. When color is at its richest, 
form is most complete. The secret of design, of everything marked 
by pattern, is contrast and relation of tones.” He quotes with 
approval the saying of another painter, Delacroix: “Give me the 
mud of the streets and if you will leave me also with power to 
surround it to my taste I will make of it a woman’s flesh of 
delicious tint.” The opposition of quality as immediate and sensu¬ 
ous to relation as purely mediate and intellectual is false in gen¬ 
eral theory, psychological and philosophical. In fine art it is 
absurd, since the force of an art product depends upon complete 
interpenetration of the two. 

The action of any one sense includes attitudes and dispo¬ 
sitions that are due to the whole organism. The energies belonging 
to the sense-organs themselves enter causally into the perceived 



122 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


thing. When some painters introduced the “pointillist” technique, 
relying upon the capacity of the visual apparatus to fuse dots 
of color physically separate on the canvas, they exemplified but 
they did not originate an organic activity that transforms physical 
existence Into a perceived object. But this sort of modification 
is elementary. It is not just the visual apparatus but the whole 
organism that interacts with the environment in all but routine 
action. The eye, ear, or whatever, is only the channel through 
which the total response takes place. A color as seen is always 
qualified by implicit reactions of many organs, those of the sym¬ 
pathetic system as well as of touch. It is a funnel for the total 
energy put forth, not its well-spring. Colors are sumptuous and 
rich just because a total organic resonance is deeply implicated 
in them. 

Even more important is the fact that the organism which 
responds in production of the experienced object is one whose 
tendencies of observation, desire and emotion, are shaped by prior 
experiences. It carries past experiences in itself not by conscious 
memory but by direct charge. This fact accounts for the existence 
of some degree of expressiveness in the object of every conscious 
experience. That fact has already been brought out. What is perti¬ 
nent to the topic of esthetic substance turns upon the way in 
which the material of past experience, which loads present atti¬ 
tudes, operates in connection with material provided by means 
of the senses. In sheer recollection, for example, it is essential 
to keep the two apart; otherwise remembering is distorted. In 
purely acquired automatic action, past material is subordinated 
to the extent of not appearing at all in consciousness. In other 
cases, material of the past comes to consciousness but is con¬ 
sciously employed as an instrument to deal with some present 
problem and difficulty. It is kept down so as to serve some special 
end. If the experience is predominatingly one of investigation, it 
has the status of offering evidence or of suggesting hypotheses; 
if “practical,” of furnishing cues to present action. 

In esthetic experience, on the contrary, the material of 
the past neither fills attention, as in recollection, nor is subordi¬ 
nated to a special purpose. There is, indeed, a restriction imposed 
upon what comes. But it is that of contribution to the immediate 
matter of an experience now had. The material is not employed 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


123 


as a bridge to some further experience, but as an increase and 
individualization of present experience. The scope of a work 
of art is measured by the number and variety of elements coming 
from past experiences that are organically absorbed into the 
perception had here and now. They give it its body and its 
suggestiveness. They often come from sources too obscure to 
be identified in any conscious memorial way, and thus they 
create the aura and penumbra in which a work of art 
swims. 

We see a painting through the eyes, and hear music 
through the ears. Upon reflection, we are then only too much 
given to supposing that in the experience itself visual or audi- 
tory qualities as such, are central if not exclusive. This carry, 
ing into the primary experience as part of its immediate nature 
whatever subsequent analysis finds in it, is a fallacy—one which 
James called the psychological fallacy. In seeing a picture, 
it is not true that visual qualities are as such, or consciously, 
central, and other qualities arranged about them in an accessory 
or associated fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
It is no more true of seeing a picture than it is of reading a poem 
or a treatise on philosophy, in which we are not aware in any 
distinct way of the visual forms of letters and words. These are 
stimuli to which we respond with emotional, imaginative, and 
intellectual values drawn from ourselves, which then are ordered 
by interaction with those presented through the medium of 
words. The colors seen in a picture are referred to objects, not 
to the eye. For this reason alone are they emotionally qualified, 
up to the point sometimes of hypnotic force, and are significant or 
expressive. The organ that investigation, using anatomical and 
physiological lore to help it out, shows to be causally primary in 
conditioning the experience, may in the experience itself be as un¬ 
obtrusive as are the brain tracts that are involved just as much as 
the eye is, but which only the trained neurologist knows anything 
about—and which even he is not aware of when he is absorbed 
in seeing something. When we perceive, by means of the eyes as 
causal aids, the liquidity of water, the coldness of ice, the solidity 
of rocks, the bareness of trees in winter, it is certain that other 
qualities than those of the eye are conspicuous and controlling 
in perception. And it is as certain as anything can be that optical 



124 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


qualities do not stand out by themselves with tactual and emotive 
qualities clinging to their skirts. 

The point just made is not one of remote technical theory. 
It bears directly upon our main problem, the relation of substance 
and form. This bearing has many aspects. One of them is the 
inherent tendency of sense to expand, to come into intimate 
relations with other things than itself, and thus to take on form 
because of its own movement—instead of passively waiting to 
have form imposed on it. Any sensuous quality tends, because 
of its organic connections, to spread and fuse. When a sense 
quality remains on the relatively isolated plane on which it first 
emerges, it does so because of some special reaction, because it 
is cultivated for special reasons. It ceases to be sensuous and 
becomes sensual. This isolation of sense is not characteristic of 
esthetic objects, but of such things as narcotics, sexual orgasms, 
and gambling indulged in for the sake of the immediate excite¬ 
ment of sensation. In normal experience, a sensory quality is 
related to other qualities in such ways as to define an object. 
The organ of reception, which is focal, adds energy and freshness 
to meanings otherwise merely reminiscent, stale, or abstract. No 
poet is more directly sensuous than Keats. But no one has written 
poetry in which sensuous qualities are more intimately pervaded 
by objective events and scenes. Milton was seemingly inspired 
by what to most persons today is a dry and repellent theology. 
But he was sufficiently in the Shakespearean tradition so that his 
substance is that of direct drama composed on a majestic scale. 
If we hear a rich and haunting voice, we feel it immediately as 
the voice of a certain kind of personality. If we discover later 
that the person is, in fact, of a meager and thin nature, we feel 
as if we had been cheated. So we are always esthetically disap¬ 
pointed when the sensuous qualities and the intellectual properties 
of an object of art do not coalesce. 

The moot problem of the relation of the decorative and 
the expressive is solved when it is viewed in the context of the 
integration of matter and form. The expressive inclines to the 
side of meaning, the decorative to that of sense. There is a hunger 
of the eyes for light and color; there is distinctive satisfaction 
when this hunger is fed. Wall-paper, rugs, tapestries, the mar¬ 
velous play of changing tints in sky and flowers, fulfill the need. 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


125 


Arabesques, gay colors, have a like office in paintings. Some of 
the charm of architectural structures—for they have charm as 
well as dignity—derives from the fact that, in their exquisite 
adaptations of lines and spaces, they meet a similar organic need 
of the sensori-motor system. 

Yet in all this, there is no isolated operation of par¬ 
ticular senses. The conclusion to be drawn is that the distinc¬ 
tively decorative quality is due to unusual energy of a sensory 
tract that lends vividness and appeal to the other activities 
with which it is associated. Hudson was a person of extraordi¬ 
nary sensitiveness to the sensuous surface of the world. Speaking 
of his childhood when he was, as he says, “just a little wild animal 
running around on its hind legs, amazingly interested in the world 
in which it found itself,” he goes on to say: "I rejoiced in colors, 
scents, in taste and touch: the blue of the sky, the verdure of 
earth, the sparkle of light on water, the taste of milk, of fruit, 
of honey, the smell of dry or moist soil, of wind and rain, of 
herbs and flowers; the mere feel of a blade of grass made me 
happy; and there were certain sounds and perfumes, and above 
all certain colors in flowers, and in the plumage and eggs of birds, 
such as the purple polished shell of the tinamou’s egg, which 
intoxicated me with delight. When riding on the plain I discovered 
a patch of scarlet verbenas in full bloom, the creeping plants 
covering an area of several yards, with a moist greensward 
sprinkled abundantly with the shining flower bosses, I would 
throw myself from the pony with a cry of joy to lie on the turf 
among them and feast my sight on their brilliant color.” 

No one can complain of a lack of recognition of immediate 
sensuous effect in such an experience. It is the more note¬ 
worthy because not affecting that superior attitude toward quali¬ 
ties of smell, taste, and touch adopted by some writers since 
Kant. But it will be noted that “colors, scents, taste and touch” 
are not isolated. The enjoyment is of the color, feel, and scent of 
objects: blades of grass, sky, sunlight and water, birds. The sight, 
smell, and touch immediately appealed to are means through which 
the boy's entire being reveled in acute perception of the qualities 
of the world in which he lived—qualities of things experienced not 
of sensation. The active agency of a particular sense-organ is 
involved in the production of the quality, but the organ is not fot 



126 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


this reason the focus of the conscious experience. The connection 
of qualities with objects is intrinsic in all experience having signifi¬ 
cance. Eliminate this connection and nothing remains but a sense¬ 
less and unidentifiable succession of transitory thrills. When we 
have “pure” sensational experiences they come to us in moments of 
abrupt and coerced attention; they are shocks, and even shocks 
serve normally to incite curiosity to inquire into the nature of the 
situation that has suddenly interrupted our previous occupation. 
If the condition persists unchanged without ability to sink what is 
felt into a property of the object, the result is sheer exasperation 
—a thing far removed from esthetic enjoyment. To make the 
pathology of sensation the basis of esthetic enjoyment is not a 
promising undertaking. 

Translate the enjoyment of the verbena creeping over the 
grass, sunlight sparkling on water, the shining polish of the bird’s 
egg, into experiences of the live creature, and what we find is the 
very opposite of a single sense functioning alone, or of a number of 
senses merely adding their separate qualities together. The latter 
are coordinated into a whole of vitality by their common relations 
to objects. It is the objects that live an impassioned life. Art, 
like that of Hudson himself in recreating the experience of child¬ 
hood, but carries further, through selection and concentration, 
the reference to an object, to organization and order beyond 
mere sense, implicit in the experience of the child. The native 
experience in its continuous and cumulative character (properties 
that exist because “sensations” are of objects ordered in a common 
world and are not mere transient excitations), thus affords a 
frame of reference for the work of art. If the theory that primary 
esthetic experience is of isolated sense qualities were correct, it 
would be impossible for art to superimpose connection and order 
upon them. 

The situation just described gives the key to understand¬ 
ing the relation in a work of art between decorative and ex¬ 
pressive. Were enjoyment simply of qualities by themselves, 
the decorative and the expressive would have no connection with 
each other, one coming from immediate sense experience and the 
other from relations and meanings introduced by art. Since sense 
itself blends with relations, the difference between the decorative 
and the expressive is one of emphasis. Joie de vtvre —the abandon 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


127 


that takes no thought for the morrow, the sumptuousness of 
fabrics, the gayety of flowers, the matured richness of fruits—is 
expressed through the decorative quality that springs directly out 
of the full play of sensuous qualities. If the range of expression 
in the arts is to be comprehensive, there are objects with values 
that must be rendered decoratively and others that must be 
rendered without it. A gay Pierrot at a funeral would clash with 
the others. When a court fool is introduced in a picture of the 
obsequies of his lord, his semblance must at least fit the require¬ 
ments of the context. An excess of decorative quality in a par¬ 
ticular setting has an expressiveness of its own—as Goya carries 
its exaggeration in some portraits of the court folk of his day 
to a point where their pomposity is made ridiculous. To demand 
that all art be decorative is as much a limitation of the material 
of art in its exclusion of expression of the somber as is a Puritanic 
demand that all art be grave. 

The special bearing of the expressiveness of decoration on 
the problem of substance and form is that it proves the wrongness 
of the theories that isolate sense qualities. For in the degree in 
which decorative effect is achieved by isolation, it becomes empty 
embellishment, factitious ornamentation—like sugar figures on 
a cake—and external bedecking. There is no need for me to go 
out of my way to condemn the insincerity of using adornment 
to conceal weakness and cover up structural defects. But it is 
necessary to note that upon the basis of esthetic theories which 
separate sense and meaning, there is no artistic ground for such 
condemnation. Insincerity in art has an esthetic not just a moral 
source; it is found wherever substance and form fall apart. This 
statement does not signify that all structurally necessary elements 
should be evident to perception, as some extreme “functionalists” 
in architecture have insisted they should be. Such a contention 
confuses a rather bald conception of morals with art.* For, in 
architecture as in painting and poetry, raw materials are re¬ 
ordered through interaction with the self to make experience 
delightful. 

Flowers in a room add to its expressiveness, when they 
harmonize with its furnishing and use without adding a note of 

* Geoffrey Scott in his "Architecture of Humanism” has well exposed 
and explained this fallacy. 



128 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


insincerity—even though they cover up something structurally 
necessary. 

The truth of the matter is that what is form in one con¬ 
nection is matter in another and vice-versa. Color that is matter 
with respect to expressiveness of some qualities and values is 
form when it is used to convey delicacy, brilliance, gayety. And 
this statement does not signify that some colors have one function 
and other colors another function. Take, for example, Velasquez’s 
painting of the child Maria Theresa, the one with a vase of 
flowers at her right. Its grace and delicacy is unsurpassable; the 
delicacy pervades every aspect and part—dress, jewels, face, hair, 
hands, flowers; but exactly the same colors express not only the 
stuff of fabrics, but as always with Velasquez when he succeeds, 
the inherent dignity of a human being, a dignity that even in a 
royal personage is so intrinsic that it is not a trapping of royalty. 

It does not follow, of course, that all works of art, even 
those of the highest quality, must possess such a complete inter¬ 
penetration of the decorative and the expressive as is often ex¬ 
hibited in Titian, Velasquez and Renoir. Artists may be great in 
one direction or the other, and still be great. French painting, 
almost from its beginning, has been marked by a lively sense of 
the decorative. Lancret, Fragonard, Watteau may be delicate to 
the point at times of fragility, but they almost never exhibit the 
split between expressiveness and extraneous ornamentation that 
almost always marks Boucher. They prefer subjects that require 
delicacy and intimate subtlety to render them fully expressive. 
Renoir has more of the substance of common life in his paintings 
than they. But he uses every plastic means—color, light, line, and 
planes, in themselves and in their interrelations—to convey a 
sense of abounding joy in intercourse with common things. Friends 
who knew the models he used, sometimes complained, according to 
report, that he made them much more beautiful than they really 
were. But no one who looks at the paintings gets any sense of 
their being “fixed up” or prettified. What is expressed is the 
experience Renoir himself had of the joy of perceiving the world. 
Matisse is unrivaled among the decorative colorists of the present. 
At first he may give to the beholder a shock because of juxtapo¬ 
sition of colors that in themselves are garish and because at first 
physical blanks seem to be unesthetic. But when one has learned 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


129 


to see, one finds a marvelous rendering of a quality that is char* 
acteristically French—clearness, clart6. If the attempt to express 
it does not succeed—and, of course, it does not always—then the 
decorative quality stands out by itself and is oppressive—like too 
much sugar. 

Hence, one important faculty in learning to perceive a 
work of art—a faculty that many critics do not possess—is power 
to grasp the phases of objects that specially interest a particu¬ 
lar artist. Still-life painting would be as empty as is most 
genre painting if it did not, under the hand of a master, become 
expressive through its very decorative quality of significant 
structural factors, as Chardin renders volume and spadal posi¬ 
tions in ways that caress the eye; while Cezanne achieves monu¬ 
mental quality with fruits, just as, on the opposite side, Guardi 
suffuses the monumental in buildings with a decorative glow. 

As objects are transported from one culture-medium to 
another, decorative quality takes on a new value. Rugs and bowls 
of the Orient have patterns whose original value was usually 
religious or political—as tribal emblems—expressed in decorative 
semi-geometrical figures. The western observer does not get the 
former any more than he grasps the religious expressiveness is 
Chinese paintings of original Buddhist and Taoist connections. 
The plastic elements remain and sometimes give a false sense of 
the separation of decorative from expressive. Local elements 
were a kind of medium by which entrance fee was paid. The 
intrinsic value remains after local elements have been stripped 
away. 

Beauty, conventionally assumed to be the especial theme 
of esthetics, has hardly been mentioned in what precedes. It is 
properly an emotional term, though one denoting a characteristic 
emotion. In the presence of a landscape, a poem or a picture that 
lays hold of us with immediate poignancy, we are moved to 
murmur or to exclaim “How beautiful.” The ejaculation is a just 
tribute to the capacity of the object to arouse admiration that 
approaches worship. Beauty is at the furthest remove from an 
analytic term, and hence from a conception that can figure in 
theory as a means of explanation or classification. Unfortunately, 
it has been hardened into a peculiar object; emotional rapture 
has been subjected to what philosophy calls hypostatization, and 



130 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the concept of beauty as an essence of intuition has resulted. For 
purposes of theory, it then becomes an obstructive term. In case 
the term is used in theory to designate the total esthetic quality 
of an experience, it is surely better to deal with the experience 
itself and show whence and how the quality proceeds. In that 
case, beauty is the response to that which to reflection is the 
consummated movement of matter integrated through its inner 
relations into a single qualitative whole. 

There is another and more limited use of the term in which 
beauty is set off against other modes of esthetic quality—against 
the sublime, the comic, grotesque. Judging from results, the dis¬ 
tinction is not a happy one. It tends to involve those who engage 
in it in dialectical manipulation of concepts and a compartmental 
pigeon-holing that obstructs rather than aids direct perception. 
Instead of favoring surrender to the object, ready-made divisions 
lead one to approach an esthetic object with an intent to compare 
and thus to restrict the experience to a partial grasp of the unified 
whole. An examination of the cases in which the word is com¬ 
monly used, apart from its immediate emotional sense mentioned 
above, reveals that one significance of the term is the striking 
presence of decorative quality, of immediate charm for sense. The 
other meaning indicates the marked presence of relations of fit¬ 
ness and reciprocal adaptation among the members of the whole, 
whether it be object, situation, or deed. 

Demonstrations in mathematics, operations in surgery, are 
thus said to be beautiful—even a case of disease may be so typical 
in its exhibition of characteristic relations as to be called beauti¬ 
ful. Both meanings, that of sensuous charm and of manifestation 
of a harmonious proportion of parts, mark the human form in its 
best exemplars. The efforts that have been made by theorists to 
reduce one meaning to the other illustrate the futility of approach¬ 
ing the subject-matter through fixed concepts. The facts throw 
light upon the immediate fusion of form and matter, and upon 
the relativity of what is taken as form or as substance in a 
particular case to the purpose animating reflective analysis. 

The sum of the whole discussion is that theories which 
separate matter and form, theories that strive to find a special 
locus in experience for each, are, in spite of their oppositions to 
one another, cases of the same fundamental fallacy. They rest 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


131 


upon separation of the live creature from the environment in 
which it lives. One school, one which becomes the “idealistic” 
school in philosophy when its implications are formulated, makes 
the separation in the interest of meanings or relations. The other 
school, the sensational-empiricist, makes the separation in behalf 
of the primacy of sense qualities. Esthetic experience has not 
been trusted to generate its own concepts for interpretation of 
art. These have been superimposed through being carried over, 
ready-made, from systems of thought framed without reference 
to art. 

Nowhere has the result been more disastrous than with 
respect to the problem of matter and form. It would have been 
easy to fill the pages of this chapter with quotations from writers 
on esthetics asserting an original dualism of matter and form. I 
shall quote only one instance: “We call the facade of a Greek 
temple beautiful with special reference to its admirable form; 
whereas, in predicating beauty of a Norman castle, we refer rather 
to what the castle means—to the effect of imagination of its 
past proud strength and slow vanquishment by die unrelenting 
strokes of time.” 

This particular writer refers “form” directly to sense, and 
matter or “substance” to associated meaning. It would be just as 
easy to reverse the process. Ruins are picturesque; that is, their 
immediate pattern and color with overgrowing ivy, make a decora¬ 
tive appeal to sense; while, it might be argued, the effect of 
the Greek facade is due to a perception of relations of propor¬ 
tion, etc., which involve rational rather than sensuous considera¬ 
tions. Indeed, at first view, it seems more natural to ascribe matter 
to sense and form to mediating thought than vice versa. The fact 
is that distinctions in both directions are equally arbitrary. What 
is form in one context is matter in another and vice versa. More¬ 
over, they change places in the same work of art with a shift in 
our interest and attention. Take the following stanzas of “Lucy 
Gray”: 


"Yet some maintain that to this day 
She is a living child; 

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray 
Upon the lonesome wild . 



132 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


u O*er rough and smooth she trips along 
And never looks behind; 

And sings a solitary song 
That whistles in the wind ” 

Did anybody who felt the poem esthetically make—at the 
same time—a conscious distinction of sense and thought, of mat¬ 
ter and form? If $o, they did not read or hear esthetically, for 
the esthetic value of the stanzas lies in the integration of the two. 
Nevertheless, after an absorbed enjoyment of the poem, one may 
reflect and analyze. One may consider how the choice of words, 
the meter and rhyme, the movement of the phrases, contribute to 
the esthetic effect. Not only this, but such an analysis, performed 
with reference to a more definite apprehension of form, may 
enrich further direct experience. Upon another occasion, these 
same traits taken in connection with the development of Words¬ 
worth, his experience and theories, may be treated as matter 
rather than as form. Then the episode, the “story of the child 
faithful unto death” serves as a form in which Wordsworth 
embodied the material of his personal experience. 

Since the ultimate cause of the union of form and matter 
in experience is the intimate relation of undergoing and doing in 
interaction of a live creature with the world of nature and man, 
the theories, which separate matter and form, have their ultimate 
source in neglect of this relation. Qualities are then treated as im¬ 
pressions made by things, and relations that supply meaning as 
either associations among impressions, or as something introduced 
by thought. There are enemies of the union of form and matter. 
But they proceed from our own limitations; they are not intrinsic. 
They spring from apathy, conceit, self-pity, tepidity, fear, conven¬ 
tion, routine, from the factors that obstruct, deflect and prevent 
vital interaction of the life creature with the environment in which 
he exists. Only the being who is ordinarily apathetic finds merely 
transient excitement in a work of art; only one who is depressed, 
unable to face the situations about him, goes to it merely for me¬ 
dicinal solace through values he cannot find in his world. But art 
itself is more than a stir of energy in the doldrums of the 
dispirited, or a calm in the storms of the troubled. 

Through art, meanings of objects that are otherwise dumb. 



133 


SUBSTANCE AND FORM 

inchoate, restricted, and resisted are clarified and concentrated, 
and not by thought working laboriously upon them, nor by escape 
into a world of mere sense, but by creation of a new experience. 
Sometimes the expansion and intensification is effected by 
means of 


.. some philosophic song 
Of Truth that cherishes our daily life 99 ; 

sometimes it is brought about by a journey to far places, a ven¬ 
ture to 


u casements opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn ” 

But whatever path the work of art pursues, it, just because it is a 
full and intense experience, keeps alive the power to experience 
the common world in its fullness. It does so by reducing the raw 
materials of that experience to matter ordered through form. 



CHAPTER VII 


THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


F ORM as something that organizes material into the matter 
of art has been considered in the previous chapter. The defini¬ 
tion that was given tells what form is when it is achieved, when it 
is there in a work of art. It does not tell how it comes to be, the 
conditions of its generation. Form was defined in terms of rela¬ 
tions and esthetic form in terms of completeness of relations 
within a chosen medium. But “relation” is an ambiguous word. 
In philosophic discourse it is used to designate a connection insti¬ 
tuted in thought. It then signifies something indirect, something 
purely intellectual, even logical. But “relation” in its idiomatic 
usage denotes something direct and active, something dynamic 
and energetic. It fixes attention upon the way things bear upon 
one another, their clashes and unitings, the way they fulfill and 
frustrate, promote and retard, excite and inhibit one another. 

Intellectual relations subsist in propositions; they state 
the connection of terms with one another. In art, as in nature and 
in life, relations are modes of interaction. They are pushes and 
pulls; they are contractions and expansions; they determine 
lightness and weight, rising and falling, harmony and discord. 
The relations of friendship, of husband and wife, of parent and 
child, of citizen and nation, like those of body to body in gravita¬ 
tion and chemical action, may be symbolized by terms or concep¬ 
tions and then be stated in propositions. But they exist as actions 
and reactions in which things are modified. Art expresses, it does 
not state; it is concerned with existences in their perceived quali¬ 
ties, not with conceptions symbolized in terms. A social relation 
is an affair of affections and obligations, of intercourse, of genera¬ 
tion, influence and mutual modification. It is in this sense that 
“relation” is to be understood when used to define form in art. 

Mutual adaptation of parts to one another in constituting 
a whole is the relation which, formally speaking, characterizes 

134 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM I3S 

a work of art. Every machine, every utensil, has, within limits, 
a similar reciprocal adaptation. In each case, an end is fulfilled. 
That which is merely a utility satisfies, however, a particular and 
limited end. The work of esthetic art satisfies many ends, none of 
which is laid down in advance. It serves life rather than prescrib¬ 
ing a defined and limited mode of living. This service would be 
impossible were not parts bound together in the esthetic object 
in distinctive ways. How is it that each part is a dynamic part, 
that is, plays an active part , in constituting this kind of a whole? 
This is the question which confronts us. 

In his “Enjoyment of Poetry,” Max Eastman uses the 
apt illustration of a man crossing the river, we will say coming 
into New York City on a ferry boat, to bring out the nature of 
an esthetic experience. Some men regard it as simply a journey 
to get them where they want to be—a means to be endured. So, 
perhaps, they read a newspaper. One who is idle may glance at 
this and that building identifying it as the Metropolitan Tower, 
the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and so on. 
Another, impatient to arrive, may be on the lookout for land¬ 
marks by which to judge progress toward his destination. Still 
another, who is taking the journey for the first time, looks eagerly 
but is bewildered by the multiplicity of objects spread out to 
view. He sees neither the whole nor the parts; he is like a lay¬ 
man who goes into an unfamiliar factory where many machines 
are plying. Another person, interested in real estate, may see, in 
looking at the skyline, evidence in the height of buildings, of 
the value of land. Or he may let his thoughts roam to the con¬ 
gestion of a great industrial and commercial center. He may go 
on to think of the planlessness of arrangement as evidence of 
the chaos of a society organized on the basis of conflict rather 
than cooperation. Finally the scene formed by the buildings may 
be looked at as colored and lighted volumes in relation to one 
another, to the sky and to the river. He is now seeing esthetically, 
as a painter might see. 

Now the characteristic of the last-named vision in contrast 
with the others mentioned is that it is concerned with a perceptual 
whole, constituted by related parts. No one single figure, aspect, 
or quality is picked out as a means to some further external 
result which is desired, nor as a sign of an inference that may 



136 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


be drawn. The Empire State Building may be recognized by 
itself. But when it is seen pictorially it is seen as a related part of 
a perceptually organized whole. Its values, its qualities as seen, 
are modified by the other parts of the whole scene, and in turn 
these modify the value, as perceived, of every other part of the 
whole. There is now form in the artistic sense. 

Matisse has described the actual process of painting in 
the following way: “If, on a clean canvas, I put at intervals 
patches of blue, green and red, with every touch that I put on, 
each of those previously laid on loses in importance. Say I have 
to paint an interior; I see before me a wardrobe. It gives me 
a vivid sensation of red; I put on the canvas the particular red 
that satisfies me. A relation is now established between this red 
and the paleness of the canvas. When I put on besides a green, 
and also a yellow to represent the floor, between this green and 
the yellow and the color of the canvas there will be still further 
relations. But these different tones diminish one another. It is 
necessary that the different tones I use be balanced in such a 
way that they do not destroy one another. To secure that, I have 
to put my ideas in order; the relationships between tones must 
be instituted in such a way that they are built up instead of 
being knocked down. A new combination of colors will succeed to 
the first one and will give the wholeness of my conception.” * 

Now there is nothing different in principle here from what 
is done in the furnishing of a room, when the householder sees to 
it that tables, chairs, rugs, lamps, color of walls, and spacing of 
the pictures on them are so selected and arranged that they do 
not clash but form an ensemble. Otherwise there is confusion— 
confusion, that is, in perception . Vision cannot then complete 
itself. It is broken up into a succession of disconnected acts, now 
seeing this, now that, and no mere succession is a series. When 
masses are balanced, colors harmonized, and lines and planes 
meet and intersect fittingly, perception will be serial in order to 
grasp the whole and each sequential act builds up and reenforces 
what went before. Even at first glance there is the sense of quali¬ 
tative unity. There is form. 

* From "Notes d’un Peintre,” published in 1908. In another connection 
one might dwell upon the implications of the phrase concerning the neces¬ 
sity for "putting ideas in order." 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


137 


In a word, form is not found exclusively in objects labeled 
works of art. Wherever perception has not been blunted and per¬ 
verted, there is an inevitable tendency to arrange events and ob¬ 
jects with reference to the demands of complete and unified 
perception. Form is a character of every experience that is an 
experience. Art in its specific sense enacts more deliberately and 
fully the conditions that effect this unity. Form may then be de¬ 
fined as the operation oj forces that carry the experience of an 
event, object, scene, and situation to its own integral fulfillment. 
The connection of form with substance is thus inherent, not im¬ 
posed from without. It marks the matter of an experience that is 
carried to consummation. If the matter is of a jolly sort, the form 
that would be fitting to pathetic matter is impossible. If expressed 
in a poem, then meter, rate of movement, words chosen, the whole 
structure, will be different, and in a picture so will the whole 
scheme of color and volume relationships. In comedy, a man at 
work laying bricks while dressed in evening clothes is appropriate; 
the form fits the matter. The same subject-matter would bring 
the movement of another experience to disaster. 

The problem of discovering the nature of form is thus 
identical with that of discovering the means by which are effected 
the carrying forward of an experience to fulfillment. When we 
know these means, we know what form is. While it is true that 
every matter has its own form, or is intimately individual, yet 
there are general conditions involved in the orderly development 
of any subject-matter to its completion, since only when these 
conditions are met does a unified perception take place. 

Some of the conditions of form have been mentioned in 
passing. There can be no movement toward a consummating 
close unless there is a progressive massing of values, a cumula¬ 
tive effect. This result cannot exist without conservation of the 
import of what has gone before. Moreover, to secure the needed 
continuity, the accumulated experience must be such as to create 
suspense and anticipation of resolution. Accumulation is at the 
same time preparation, as with each phase of the growth of a 
living embryo. Only that is carried on which is led up to; other¬ 
wise there is arrest and a break. For this reason consummation 
is relative; instead of occurring once for all at a given point, it is 
recurrent. The final end is anticipated by rhythmic pauses, 



138 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


while that end is final only in an external way. For as we turn 
from reading a poem or novel or seeing a picture the effect 
presses forward in further experiences, even if only subcon¬ 
sciously. 

Such characteristics as continuity, cumulation, conserva¬ 
tion, tension and anticipation are thus formal conditions of es¬ 
thetic form. The factor of resistance is worth especial notice at 
this point. Without internal tension there would be a fluid rush 
to a straightaway mark; there would be nothing that could be 
called development and fulfillment. The existence of resistance 
defines the place of intelligence in the production of an object of 
fine art. The difficulties to be overcome in bringing about the 
proper reciprocal adaptation of parts constitute what in intel¬ 
lectual work are problems. As in activity dealing with predomi¬ 
natingly intellectual matters, the material that constitutes a 
problem has to be converted into a means for its solution. It can¬ 
not be sidestepped. But in art the resistance encountered enters 
into the work in a more immediate way than in science. The per- 
ceiver as well as artist has to perceive, meet, and overcome 
problems; otherwise, appreciation is transient and overweighted 
with sentiment. For, in order to perceive esthetically, he must 
remake his past experiences so that they can enter integrally into 
a new pattern. He cannot dismiss his past experiences nor can 
he dwell among them as they have been in the past. 

A rigid predetermination of an end-product whether by 
artist or beholder leads to the turning out of a mechanical or 
academic product. The processes by which the final object and 
perception are reached are not, in such cases, means that move 
forward in the construction of a consummating experience. The 
latter is rather of the nature of a stencil, even though the copy 
from which the stencil is made exists in mind and not as a phys¬ 
ical thing. A statement that an artist does not care how his work 
eventuates would not be literally true. But it is true that he cares 
about the end-result as a completion of what goes before and not 
because of its conformity or lack of conformity with a ready-made 
antecedent scheme. He is willing to leave the outcome to the 
adequacy of the means from which it issues and which it sums up. 
Like the scientific inquirer, he permits the subject-matter of his 
perception in connection with die problems it presents to deter- 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


139 


mine the issue, instead of insisting upon its agreement with a 
conclusion decided upon in advance. 

The consummately phase of experience—which is inter¬ 
vening as well as final—always presents something new. Admira¬ 
tion always includes an element of wonder. As a Renascence 
writer said: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some 
strangeness in the proportion.” The unexpected turn, something 
which the artist himself does not definitely foresee, is a condi¬ 
tion of the felicitous quality of a work of art; it saves it from 
being mechanical. It gives the spontaneity of the unpremeditated 
to what would otherwise be a fruit of calculation. The painter 
and poet like the scientific inquirer know the delights of dis¬ 
covery. Those who carry on their work as a demonstration of a 
preconceived thesis may have the joys of egotistic success but 
not that of fulfillment of an experience for its own sake. In the 
latter they learn by their work, as they proceed, to see and feel 
what had not been part of their original plan and purpose. 

The consummatory phase is recurrent throughout a work 
of art, and in the experience of a great work of art the points of 
its incidence shift in successive observations of it. This fact sets 
the insuperable barrier between mechanical production and use 
and esthetic creation and perception. In the former there are no 
ends until the final end is reached. Then work tends to be labor 
and production to be drudgery. But there is no final term in 
appreciation of a work of art. It carries on and is, therefore, in¬ 
strumental as well as final. Those who deny this fact confine the 
significance of “instrumental” to the process of contributing to 
some narrow, if not base, office of efficacy. When the fact is not 
given a name, they acknowledge it. Santayana speaks of being 
“carried by contemplation of nature to a vivid faith in the ideal.” 
This statement applies to art as to nature, and it indicates an 
instrumental function exercised by a work of art. We are carried 
to a refreshed attitude toward the circumstances and exigencies 
of ordinary experience. The work, in the sense of working, of an 
object of art does not cease when the direct act of perception 
stops. It continues to operate in indirect channels. Indeed, per¬ 
sons who draw back at the mention of “instrumental” in connec¬ 
tion with art often glorify art for precisely the enduring serenity, 
refreshment, or re-education of vision that are induced by it. The 



140 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


real trouble is verbal. Such persons are accustomed to associate 
the word with instrumentalities for narrow ends—as an umbrella 
is instrumental to protection from rain or a mowing machine to 
cutting grain. 

Some features, that at first sight seem extraneous, belong 
in fact to expressiveness. For they further the development of 
an experience so as to give the satisfaction peculiar to striking 
fulfillment. This is true, for example, of evidence of unusual skill 
and of economy in use of means, when these traits are integrated 
with the actual work. Skill is then admired not as part of the 
external equipment of the artist, but as an enhanced expression 
belonging to the object. For it facilitates the carrying on a con¬ 
tinuous process to its own precise and definite conclusion. It 
belongs to the product and not merely to the producer, because 
it is a constituent of form; just as the grace of a greyhound marks 
the movements he performs rather than is a trait possessed by the 
animal as something outside the movements. 

Costliness is, also, as Santayana has pointed out, an ele¬ 
ment in expression, a costliness that has nothing in common with 
vulgar display of purchasing power. Rarity counts to intensify 
expression whether the rarity is that of infrequent occurrence of 
patient labor, or because it has the glamor of a distant clime and 
initiates us into hardly known modes of living. Such instances of 
costliness are part of form because they operate as do all factors 
of the new and unexpected in promoting the building up of a 
unique experience. The familiar may also have this effect. There 
are others beside Charles Lamb who are peculiarly sensitive to 
the charm of the domestic. But they celebrate the familiar instead 
of reproducing its forms in waxy puppets. The old takes on a 
new guise in which the sense of the familiar is rescued from the 
oblivion that custom usually effects. Elegance is also a part of 
form for it marks a work whenever subject-matter moves to its 
conclusion with inevitable logic. 

Some of the traits mentioned are more often referred to 
technique than to form. The attribution is correct whenever the 
qualities in question are referred to the artist rather than to his 
work. There is a technique that obtrudes, like the flourishes of a 
writing master. If skill and economy suggest their author, they 
take us away from the work itself. The traits of the work which 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 141 

suggest the skill of its producer are then in the work but they are 
not oj it. And the reason they are not of it is precisely the negative 
side of the point which I am emphasizing. They do not take us 
anywhere in the institution of unified developing experience; 
they do not act as inherent forces to carry the object of which 
they are a professed part to consummation. Such traits are like 
any other superfluous or excrescent element. Technique . > neither 
identical with form nor yet wholly independent of it. It is, prop¬ 
erly, the skill with which the elements constituting form are 
managed. Otherwise it is show-off or a virtuosity separated from 
expression. 

Significant advances in technique occur, therefore, in con¬ 
nection with efforts to solve problems that are not technical but 
that grow out of the need for new modes of experience. This 
statement is as true of esthetic arts as of the technological. There 
are improvements in technique that have to do merely with the 
bettering of an old-style vehicle. But they are insignificant in 
comparison with the change in technique from the wagon to the 
automobile when social needs called for a rapid transportation 
under personal control that was not possible even with the rail¬ 
way locomotive. If we take developments in the major techniques 
of painting during and since the Renascence we find that they 
were connected with efforts to solve problems that grew out of 
the experience expressed in painting and not out of the craftsman¬ 
ship of painting itself. 

There was first the problem of transition from depiction 
of contours in flat-like mosaics to “three-dimensional” presenta¬ 
tions. Until experience expanded to demand expression of some¬ 
thing more than decorative renderings of religious themes 
determined by ecclesiastic fiat there was nothing to motivate 
this change. In its own place, the convention of “flat” painting 
is just as good as any other convention, as Chinese rendering of 
perspective is as perfect in one way as that of Western painting 
in another. The force that brought about the change in technique 
was the growth of naturalism in experience outside of art. Some¬ 
thing of the same sort applies to the next great change, mastery 
of means for rendering aerial perspective and light. The third 
great technical change was the use by the Venetians of color to 
effect what other schools, especially the Florentine, had accom- 



142 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


plished by means of the sculpturesque line—a change indicative 
of a vast secularization of values with its demand for the glorifi¬ 
cation of the sumptuous and suave in experience. 

I am not concerned, however, with the history of an art, 
but with indicating how technique functions in respect to ex¬ 
pressive form. The dependence of significant technique upon the 
need for expressing certain distinctive modes of experience is 
testified to by the three stages that usually attend the appearance 
of a new technique. At first there is experimentation on the side 
of artists, with considerable exaggeration of the factor to which 
the new technique is adapted. This was true of the use of line 
to define recognition of the value of the round, as with Man¬ 
tegna; it is true of the typical impressionists in respect to light- 
effects. On the side of the public there is general condemnation 
of the intent and subject-matter of these adventures in art. In 
the next stage, the fruits of the new procedure are absorbed; they 
are naturalized and effect certain modifications of the old tra¬ 
dition. This period establishes the new aims and hence the new 
technique as having “classic” validity, and is accompanied with 
a prestige that holds over into subsequent periods. Thirdly, there 
is a period when special features of the technique of the masters 
of the balanced period are adopted for imitation and made ends 
in themselves. Thus in the later seventeenth century, the treat¬ 
ment of dramatic movement characteristic of Titian and still 
more of Tintoretto, by means chiefly of light and shade, is ex¬ 
aggerated to the point of the theatrical. In Guercino, Caravaggio, 
Feti, Carracci, Ribera, the attempt to depict movement dramati¬ 
cally results in posed tableaux and defeats itself. In this third 
stage (which dogs creative work after the latter has received 
general recognition), technique is borrowed without relation to 
the urgent experience that at first evoked it. The academic and 
eclectic result. 

I have previously stated that craftsmanship alone is not 
art. What is now added is the often ignored point of the thor¬ 
ough relativity of technique to form in art. It was not lack of 
dexterity that gives early Gothic sculpture its special form nor 
that gives Chinese paintings their special kind of perspective. 
The artists said what they had to say better with the techniques 
they used than they could have done with another. What to us 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 143 

is a charming naivete was to them the simple and direct method 
of expressing a felt subject-matter. For this reason, while there is 
not continuity of repetition in any esthetic art, neither is there, 
of necessity, advance. Greek sculpture will never be equaled 
in its own terms. Thorwaldsen is no Pheidias. That which Ve¬ 
netian painters achieved will stand unrivaled. The modern re¬ 
production of the architecture of the Gothic cathedral always 
lacks the quality of the original. What happens in the move¬ 
ment of art is emergence of new materials of experience de¬ 
manding expression, and therefore involving in their expression 
new forms and techniques. Manet went back in time to achieve 
his brush-work, but his return involved no mere copying of an 
old technique. 

The relativity of technique to form is nowhere better ex¬ 
emplified than in Shakespeare. After his reputation was estab¬ 
lished as the universal literary artist, critics thought it necessary 
to assume that greatness adhered to all his work. They built up 
theories of literary form on the basis of special techniques. They 
were shocked when a more accurate scholarship showed that 
many much lauded things were borrowed from the conventions 
of the Elizabethan stage. To those who have identified technique 
with form, the effect is to deflate Shakespeare’s greatness. But 
his substantial form remains just what it always has been and is 
unaffected by his local adaptations. Allowance for some aspects 
of his technique should indeed but concentrate attention upon 
what is significant in his art. 

It is hardly possible to overstate the relativity of tech¬ 
nique. It varies with all sorts of circumstances having little rela¬ 
tion to the work of art—perhaps a new discovery in chemistry 
that affects pigments. The significant changes are those which 
affect form itself in its esthetic sense. The relativity of technique 
to instruments is often overlooked. It becomes important when 
the new instrument is a sign of a change in culture—that is, in 
material to be expressed. Early pottery is largely determined by 
the potters’ wheel. Rugs and blankets owe much of their geo¬ 
metric design to the nature of the instrument of weaving. Such 
things by themselves are like the physical constitution of an 
artist—as Cezanne wished he had Manet’s muscles. Such things 
become of more than antiquarian interest only when they relate 



144 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


to a change in culture and experience. The technique of those 
who painted long ago on walls of caves and who carved bone 
served the purpose that conditions offered or imposed. Artists 
always have used and always will use all kinds of techniques. 

There is, on the other side, a tendency among lay critics 
to confine experimentation to scientists in the laboratory. Yet 
one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experi¬ 
menter. Without this trait he becomes a poor or a good acade¬ 
mician. The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he 
has to express an intensely individualized experience through 
means and materials that belong to the common and public world. 
This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new 
work undertaken. Otherwise an artist repeats himself and becomes 
esthetically dead. Only because the artist operates experimentally 
does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects 
and qualities in familiar scenes and objects. 

If, instead of saying “experimental” one were to say “ad¬ 
venturous,” one would probably win general assent—so great is 
the power of words. Because the artist is a lover of unalloyed 
experience, he shuns objects that are already saturated, and he is 
therefore always on the growing edge of things. By the nature of 
the case, he is as unsatisfied with what is established as is a geo¬ 
graphic explorer or a scientific inquirer. The “classic” when it 
was •produced bore the marks of adventure. This fact is ignored 
by classicists in their protest against romantics who undertake 
the development of new values, often without possessing means 
for their creation. That which is now classic is so because of 
completion of adventure, not because of its absence. The one who 
perceives and enjoys esthetically always has the sense of adven¬ 
ture in reading any classic that Keats had in reading Chapman’s 
“Homer.” 


FORM in the concrete can be discussed only with respect to 
actual works of art. These cannot be presented in a book on the 
theory of esthetics. But absorption in a work of art so complete 
as to exclude analysis cannot be long sustained. There is a rhythm 
of surrender and reflection. We interrupt our yielding to the 
object to ask where it is leading and how it is leading there. We 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 145 

then become occupied in some degree with the formal conditions 
of a concrete form. We have, indeed, already mentioned these 
conditions of form in speaking of cumulation, tension, conserva¬ 
tion, anticipation, and fulfillment as formal characteristics of an 
esthetic experience. The one who withdraws far enough from the 
work of art to escape the hypnotic effect of its total qualitative 
impression will not use these words nor be explicitly conscious of 
the things for which they stand. But the traits he distinguishes as 
those which gave the work its power over him are reducible 
to such conditions of form as have been stated. 

The total overwhelming impression comes first, perhaps 
in seizure by a sudden glory of the landscape, or by the effect 
upon us of entrance into a cathedral when dim light, incense, 
stained glass and majestic proportions fuse in one indistinguish¬ 
able whole. We say with truth that a painting strikes us. There 
is an impact that precedes all definite recognition of what it is 
about. As the painter Delacroix said about this first and pre- 
analytic phase “before knowing what the picture represents you 
are seized by its magical accord.” This effect is particularly con¬ 
spicuous for most persons in music. The impression directly made 
by an harmonious ensemble in any art is often described as the 
musical quality of that art. 

Not only, however, is it impossible to prolong this stage of 
esthetic experience indefinitely, but it is not desirable to do so. 
There is only one guarantee that this direct seizure be at a high 
level, and that is the degree of cultivation of the one experiencing 
it. In itself it may be, and often is, the result of cheap means 
employed upon meretricious stuff. And the only way in which to 
rise from that level to one where there is intrinsic assurance of 
worth is through intervening periods of discrimination. Distinc¬ 
tion in product is intimately connected with the process of dis¬ 
tinguishing. 

While both original seizure and subsequent critical dis¬ 
crimination have equal claims, each to its own complete de¬ 
velopment, it must not be forgotten that direct and unreasoned 
impression comes first. There is about such occasions something 
of the quality of the wind that bloweth where it listeth. Some¬ 
times it comes and sometimes it does not, even in the presence 
of the same object. It cannot be forced, and, when it does not 



146 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


arrive, it is not wise to seek to recover by direct action the first 
fine rapture. The beginning of esthetic understanding is the re¬ 
tention of these personal experiences and their cultivation. For, 
in the end, nourishing of them will pass into discrimination. The 
outcome of discrimination will often be to convince us that 
the particular thing in question was not worthy of calling out the 
rapt seizure; that in fact the latter was caused by factors adven¬ 
titious to the object itself. But this outcome is itself a definite 
contribution to esthetic education and lifts the next direct im¬ 
pression to a higher level. In the interest of discrimination, as 
well as that of direct capture by the object, the one sure means is 
refusal to simulate and pretend when that which, when it was 
intense, seemed to the ancients to be a kind of divine madness, 
does not arrive. 

The phase of reflection in the rhythm of esthetic apprecia¬ 
tion is criticism in germ and the most elaborate and conscious 
criticism is but its reasoned expansion. The development of that 
particular theme belongs elsewhere.* But one topic belonging 
within that general theme must at least be touched upon here. 
Many tangled problems, multifarious ambiguities, and historic 
controversies are involved in the question of the subjective and 
objective in art. Yet if the position that has been taken regarding 
form and substance is correct, there is at least one important 
sense in which form must be as objective as the material which 
it qualifies. If form emerges when raw materials are selectively 
arranged with reference to rendering an experience unified in 
movement to its intrinsic fulfillment, tnen surely objective condi¬ 
tions are controlling forces in the production of a work of art. 
A work of fine art, a statue, building, drama-, poem, novel, when 
done, is as much a part of the objective world as is a locomotive 
or a dynamo. And, as much as the latter, its existence is causally 
conditioned by the coordination of materials and energies of the 
external world. I do not mean that this is the whole of the work of 
art; even the product of industrial art was made to serve a pur¬ 
pose and is actually, instead of potentially, a locomotive as it 
operates in conditions where it produces consequences beyond 
its bare physical being; as, namely, it transports human beings 
and goods. But I do mean that there can be no esthetic experi- 

* See Chapter XIII. 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 147 

ence apart from an object, and that for an object to be the con¬ 
tent of esthetic appreciation it must satisfy those objective 
conditions without which cumulation, conservation, reenforcement, 
transition into something more complete, are impossible. The 
general conditions of esthetic form, of which I spoke a few para¬ 
graphs ago, are objective in the sense of belonging to the world 
of physical materials and energies: while the latter do not suffice 
for an esthetic experience, they are a sine qua non of its exist¬ 
ence. And the immediate artistic evidence for the truth of this 
statement is the interest that obsesses every artist in observing 
the world about him and his devoted care for the physical media 
with which he works. 

What, then, are those formal conditions of artistic form 
that are rooted deep in the world itself? The implications of 
the question involve no material not already considered. Inter¬ 
action of environment with organism is the source, direct or in¬ 
direct, of all experience and from the environment come those 
checks, resistances, furtherances, equilibria, which, when they 
meet with the energies of the organism in appropriate ways, con¬ 
stitute form. The first characteristic of the environing world that 
makes possible the existence of artistic form is rhythm. There is 
rhythm in nature before poetry, painting, architecture and music 
exist. Were it not so, rhythm as an essential property of form 
would be merely superimposed upon material, not an operation 
through which material effects its own culmination in experience. 

The larger rhythms of nature are so bound up with the 
conditions of even elementary human subsistence, that they can¬ 
not have escaped the notice of man as soon as he became con¬ 
scious of his occupations and the conditions that rendered than 
effective. Dawn and sunset, day and night, rain and sunshine, 
are in their alternation factors that directly concern human beings. 

The circular course of the seasons affects almost every 
human interest. When man became agricultural, the rhythmic 
march of the seasons was of necessity identified with the destiny 
of the community. The cycle of irregular regularities in the shape 
and behavior of the moon seemed fraught with mysterious import 
for the welfare of man, beast, and crops, and inextricably bound 
up with the mystery of generation. With these larger rhythms 
were bound up those of the ever-recurring cycles of growth from 



148 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


seed to a maturity that reproduced the seed; the reproduction of 
animals, the relation of male and female, the never-ceasing round 
of births and deaths. 

Man’s own life is affected by the rhythm of waking and 
sleeping, hungering and satiety, work and rest. The long rhythms 
of agrarian pursuits were broken into minuter and more directly 
perceptible cycles with the development of the crafts. With the 
working of wood, metal, fibers, clay, the change of raw material 
into consummated result, through technically controlled means, 
is objectively manifest. In working the matter, there are the re¬ 
current beats of patting, chipping, molding, cutting, pounding, 
that mark* off the work into measures. But more significant were 
those times of preparation for war and planting, those times of 
celebrating victory and harvest, when movements and speech took 
on cadenced form. 

Thus, sooner or later, the participation of man in nature’s 
rhythms, a partnership much more intimate than is any observa¬ 
tion of them for purposes of knowledge, induced him to impose 
rhythm on changes where they did not appear. The apportioned 
reed, the stretched string and taut skin rendered the measures of 
action conscious through song and dance. Experiences of war, 
of hunt, of sowing and reaping, of the death and resurrection of 
vegetation, of stars circling over watchful shepherds, of constant 
return of the inconstant moon, were undergone to be reproduced 
in pantomime and generated the sense of life as drama. The 
mysterious movements of serpent, elk, boar, fell into rhythms 
that brought the very essence of the lives of these animals to reali¬ 
zation as they were enacted in dance, chiseled in stone, wrought 
in silver, or limned on the walls of caves. The formative arts 
that shaped things of use were wedded to the rhythms of 
voice and the self-contained movements of the body, and out of 
the union technical arts gained the quality of fine art. Then the 
apprehended rhythms of nature were employed to introduce 
evident order into some phase of the confused observations and 
images of mankind. Man no longer conformed his activities of 
necessity to the rhythmic changes of nature’s cycles, but used 
those which necessity forced upon him to celebrate his relations 
to nature as if she had conferred upon him the freedom of her 
realm. 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


149 


The reproduction of the order of natural changes and the 
perception of that order were at first close together, so dose that 
no distinction existed between art and science. They were both 
called techne . Philosophy was written in verse and, under the in¬ 
fluence of imaginative endeavor, the world became a cosmos. 
Early Greek philosophy told the story of nature, and since a story 
has beginning, movement, and climax, the substance of the story 
demanded esthetic form. Within the story, minor rhythms became 
parts of the great rhythm of generation and destruction, of com¬ 
ing into being and passing out of being; of remission and concen¬ 
tration; of aggregation and dispersion; of consolidation and 
dissolution. The idea of law emerged with the idea of harmony, 
and conceptions that are now prosaic commonplaces emerged as 
parts of the art of nature as that was construed in the art of 
language. 

The existence of a multitude of illustrations of rhythm in 
nature is a familiar fact. Oft cited are the ebb and flow of tides, 
the cycle of lunar changes, the pulses in the flow of blood, the 
anabolism and katabolism of all living processes. What is not so 
generally perceived is that every uniformity and regularity of 
change in nature is a rhythm. The terms “natural law” and 
“natural rhythm” are synonymous. As far as nature is to us more 
than a flux lacking order in its mutable changes, as far as it is 
more than a whirlpool of confusions, it is marked by rhythms. 
Formulae for these rhythms constitute the canons of science. 
Astronomy, geology, dynamics, and kinematics record various 
rhythms that are the orders of different kinds of change. The 
very conceptions of molecule, atom, and electron arise out of the 
need of formulating lesser and subtler rhythms that are dis¬ 
covered. Mathematics are the most generalized statements 
conceivable corresponding to the most universally obtaining 
rhythms. The one, two, three, four, of counting, the construc¬ 
tion of lines and angles into geometric patterns, the highest 
flights of vector analysis, are means of recording or of imposing 
rhythm. 

The history of the progress of natural science is the record 
of operations that refine and that render more comprehensive 
our grasp of the gross and limited rhythms that first engaged the 
attention of archaic man. The development reached a point where 



ISO 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the scientific and artistic parted ways. Today the rhythms which 
physical science celebrates are obvious only to thought, not to 
perception in immediate experience. They are presented in sym¬ 
bols which signify nothing in sense-perception. They make natu¬ 
ral rhythms manifest only to those who have undergone long and 
severe discipline. Yet a common interest in rhythm is still the 
tie which holds science and art in kinship. Because of this kin¬ 
ship, it is possible that there may come a day in which subject- 
matter that now exists only for laborious reflection, that appeals 
only to those who are trained to interpret that which to sense are 
only hieroglyphics, will become the substance of poetry, and 
thereby be the matter of enjoyed perception. 

Because rhythm is a universal scheme of existence, under¬ 
lying all realization of order in change, it pervades all the arts, 
literary, musical, plastic and architectural, as well as the dance. 
Since man succeeds only as he adapts his behavior to the order 
of nature, his achievements and victories, as they ensue upon 
resistance and struggle, become the matrix of all esthetic subject- 
matter; in some sense they constitute the common pattern of art, 
the ultimate conditions of form. Their cumulative orders of suc¬ 
cession become without express intent the means by which man 
commemorates and celebrates the most intense and full moments 
of his experience. Underneath the rhythm of every art and of 
every work of art there lies, as a substratum in the depths of the 
subconsciousness, the basic pattern of the relations of the live 
creature to his environment. 

It is not, therefore, just because of the systole and diastole 
in the coursing of the blood, or alternate inspiration and exhalation 
in breathing, the swing of the legs and arms in locomotion, nor 
because of any combination of specific exemplifications of natural 
rhythm, that man delights in rhythmic portrayals and presenta¬ 
tions. The importance of such considerations is great. But ulti¬ 
mately the delight springs from the fact that such things are in¬ 
stances of the relationships that determine the course of life, 
natural and achieved. The supposition that the interest in rhythm 
which dominates the fine arts can be explained simply on the 
basis of rhythmic processes in the living body is but another case 
of the separation of organism from environment. Man attended 
to the environment long before he gave much observation or 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 151 

thought to his own organic processes and certainly long before 
he developed attentive interest to his own mental states. 

Naturalism is a word of many meanings in philosophy as 
well as in art. Like most ’isms—classicism and romanticism, ideal¬ 
ism and realism in art—it has become an emotional term, a war- 
cry of partisans. In respect to art, even more than in respect to 
philosophy, formal definitions leave us cold; by the time we' 
arrive at them, the elements that stirred the blood and aroused 
admiration in the concrete have vanished. In poetry, “nature” is 
often associated with an interest that is distinct from, if not op¬ 
posed to, matter derived from the life of men in association. As 
with Wordsworth, nature is, then, that to which one turns in com* 
munion for the sake of consolation and peace 

.. when the fretful stir 
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world 
Have hung upon the beatings of the heart? 

In painting, “naturalism” suggests turning to the more incidental 
and, as it were, informal, the more immediately evident aspects 
of earth, sky, and water in distinction from those pictures that 
attend to structural relationships. But naturalism in the broadest 
and deepest sense of nature is a necessity of all great art, even 
of the most religiously conventional and of abstract painting, and 
of the drama that deals with human action in an urban setting. 
Discrimination can be made only with reference to the particular 
aspect and phase of nature in which the rhythms that mark all 
relationships of life and its setting are displayed. 

Natural and objective conditions must be used in any 
case to carry through to completion the expression of the values 
that belong to an integrated experience in its immediate quality. 
But naturalism in art means something more than the necessity 
all arts are under of employing natural and sensuous media. It 
means that all which can be expressed is some aspect of the rela¬ 
tion of man and his environment, and that this subject-matter 
attains its most perfect wedding with form when the basic rhythms 
that characterize the interaction of the two are depended upon 
and trusted with abandon. “Naturalism” is often alleged to 
signify disregard of all values that cannot be reduced to the 



152 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


physical and animal. But so to conceive nature is to isolate 
environing conditions as the whole of nature and to exclude man 
from the scheme of things. The very existence of art as an ob¬ 
jective phenomenon using natural materials and media is proof 
that nature signifies nothing less than the whole complex of the 
results of the interaction of man, with his memories and hopes, 
understanding and desire, with that world to which one-sided 
philosophy confines “nature.” The true antithesis of nature is 
not art but arbitrary conceit, fantasy, and stereotyped conven¬ 
tion. 

Not but that there exist conventions which are vital and 
natural. The arts in certain times and places are controlled by 
conventions of rite and ceremony. Yet they do not then of neces¬ 
sity become barren and unesthetic, for the conventions them¬ 
selves live in the life of the community. Even when they assume 
prescribed hieratic and liturgical shapes, they may express what 
is active in the experience of the group. When Hegel asserted 
that the first stage in art is always “symbolic” he hinted, in terms 
of his philosophy, at the fact that certain arts were once free to 
express only that aspect of experience that had a priestly or 
royal sanction. Yet it was still an aspect of experience 
that was expressed. Moreover, as a generalization, the char¬ 
acterization is false. For in all times and places, there have been 
popular arts of song, dance, story-telling, and picture-making, 
outside of officially sanctioned and directed arts. The secular 
arts were, however, more directly naturalistic, and, whenever 
secularism invaded experience, their qualities remade the official 
arts in a naturalistic direction. As far as this did not occur, that 
which was once vital degenerated. Witness, for example, the de¬ 
generate baroque that is found in public squares in southwestern 
Europe. It is trivial to the point of frivolity, with cupids mas¬ 
querading for cherubs, as a typical example. 

Genuine naturalism is as different from imitation of things 
and traits as it is from imitation of the procedures of artists upon 
whom time has conferred specious authority—specious because 
not arising from experience of the things which they experienced 
and expressed. It is a term of contrast and signifies a deeper and 
wider sensitivity to some aspect of the rhythms of existence 
than had previously existed. It is a term of contrast, because it 



153 


THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 

signifies that in some particular a personal perception has been 
substituted for a convention. Let me recur to what was previously 
said about the expression of beatification in paintings. The as* 
sumption that certain definite lines stand for a given emotion is 
a convention that does not arise from observation; it stands in 
the way of acute sensitivity of response. Genuine naturalism 
supervened when the unfixity of human features under the influ¬ 
ence of emotions was perceived; when their own variety of 
rhythm was reacted to. I do not mean to restrict limiting con¬ 
ventions to ecclesiastic influence. More hampering ones arise 
within artists themselves when they become academic, like the 
later eclectic painting in Italy and most of English poetry in 
the eighteenth century. What for convenience I call “realistic” 
art (the word is arbitrary but the thing exists), in distinction 
from naturalistic, reproduces details but misses their moving and 
organizing rhythm. Like a photograph it wears out, save for the 
recording purposes of prose. It wears out because the object can 
be approached only from one fixed point of view. The relations 
that form a subtle rhythm promote approach from changing 
points of view. How many individualized varieties of personal 
experience utilize a rhythm that is formally the same, though it 
is actually differentiated by the material which it forms into the 
substance of a work of art! 

In opposition to the so-called poetic diction that flourished 
in England after the death of Milton, Wordsworth’s poetry was 
a naturalistic revolt. The assumption (due to misunderstanding 
of something that Wordsworth wrote) that its essence was a use 
of words of the common idiom makes non-sense of his actual 
work. For it assumes that he continued the separation of form 
and substance characteristic of earlier poetry, only turning it 
face-about. In fact, its significance is illustrated in an early coup¬ 
let of the poet when that b taken in connection with a comment 
of his own. 

“And, fronting the bright west, yon oak entwines 
Its darkening boughs and leaves in stronger lines ” 

This b verse rather than poetry. It b stark description un¬ 
touched by emotion. As Wordsworth himself said of it: “Thb is 



154 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


feebly and imperfectly exprest.” But he goes on to add, “I recol¬ 
lect distinctly the very spot where this first struck me. It was on 
the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside and gave me ex¬ 
treme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetic history; 
for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of nat¬ 
ural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any 
age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them; and I 
made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency. I 
could not at this time have been above fourteen years of age.” 

Here is a definite instance of transition from the conven¬ 
tional, from something abstractly generalized that both sprang 
from and conduced to incomplete perception, to the naturalistic— 
to an experience that corresponded more subtly and sensitively 
to the rhythm of natural change. For it was not mere variety, 
mere flux, he wished to express, but that of ordered relationships— 
the relation of accent of leaves and boughs to variations of sun¬ 
shine. The details of place and time, of the particular oak, 
disappear; the relation remains and yet not in the abstract but 
definitely, though, in this particular case, rather prosaically 
embodied. 

The discussion involves no diversion from the theme of 
rhythm as a condition of form. Other persons rnay prefer some 
other word than “naturalistic” to express escape from conven¬ 
tion to perception. But whatever word is used, it must, if it is to 
be true to refreshment of esthetic form, emphasize sensitivity to 
natural rhythm. And this fact brings me to a short definition of 
rhythm. It is ordered variation of changes. When there is a uni¬ 
formly even flow, with no variations of intensity or speed, there 
is no rhythm. There is stagnation even though it be the stagna¬ 
tion of unvarying motion. Equally there is no rhythm when varia¬ 
tions are not placed. There is a wealth of suggestion in the phrase 
“takes place." The change not only comes but it belongs; it has 
its definite place in a larger whole. The most obvious instances of 
rhythm concern variations in intensity as, in the verses quoted 
from Wordsworth, certain forms grow strong against the weaker 
forms of other boughs and leaves. There is no rhythm of any '' 
kind, no matter how delicate and no matter how extensive, where 
variation of pulse and rest do not occur. But these variations 
of intensity are not, in any complex rhythm, the whole of the 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 155 

matter. They serve to define variations in number, in extent, in 
velocity, and in intrinsic qualitative differences, as of hue, tone, 
etc. That is, variations of intensity are relative to the subject- 
matter directly experienced. Each beat, in differentiating a part 
'within the whole, adds to the force of what went before while 
creating a suspense that is a demand for something to come. It 
is not a variation in a single feature but a modulation of the 
entire pervasive and unifying qualitative substratum. 

A gas that evenly saturates a container, a torrential flood 
sweeping away all resistance, a stagnant pond, an unbroken waste 
of sand, and a monotonous roar are wholes without rhythm. A 
pond moving in ripples, forked lightning, the waving of branches 
in the wind, the beating of a bird’s wing, the whorl of sepals and 
petals, changing shadows of clouds on a meadow, are simple 
natural rhythms.* There must be energies resisting each other. 
Each gains intensity for a certain period, but thereby com¬ 
presses some opposed energy until the latter can overcome the 
other which has been relaxing itself as it extends. Then the 
operation is reversed, not necessarily in equal periods of time but 
in some ratio that is felt as orderly. Resistance accumulates 
energy; it institutes conservation until release and expansion 
ensue. There is, at the moment of reversal, an interval, a pause, 
a rest, by which the interaction of opposed energies is defined 
and rendered perceptible. The pause is a balance or symmetry 
of antagonistic forces. Such is the generic schema of rhythmic 
change save that the statement fails to take account of minor co¬ 
incident changes of expansion and contraction that are going on 
in every phase and aspect of an organized whole, and of the fact 
that the successive waves and pulses are themselves cumulative 
with respect to final consummation. 

With respect to human emotion, an immediate discharge 
that is fatal to expression is detrimental to rhythm. There is not 
enough resistance to create tension, and thereby a periodic accu¬ 
mulation and release. Energy is not conserved so as to contribute 
to an ordered development. We get a sob or shriek, a grimace, a 
scowl, a contortion, a fist striking out wildly. Darwin’s book en¬ 
titled “Expression of Emotions”—more accurately their discharge 

♦The fact that we designate it a “whorl” indicates that we are sub¬ 
consciously aware of the tension of energies involved. 



156 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


—is full of examples of what happens when an emotion is simply 
an organic state let loose on the environment in direct overt 
action. When complete release is postponed and is arrived at 
finally through a succession of ordered periods of accumulation 
and conservation, marked off into intervals by the recurrent pauses 
of balance, the manifestation of emotion becomes true expres¬ 
sion, acquiring esthetic quality—and only then. 

Emotional energy continues to work but now does real 
work; it accomplishes something. It evokes, assembles, accepts, 
and rejects memories, images, observations, and works them into 
a whole toned throughout by the same immediate emotional feel¬ 
ing. Thereby is presented an object that is unified and distin¬ 
guished throughout. The resistance offered to immediate expres¬ 
sion of emotion is precisely that which compels it to assume 
rhythmic form. This, indeed, is Coleridge’s explanation of meter in 
verse. Its origin, he says, he “would trace to the balance in the 
mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in 
check the workings of passion.... This salutary antagonism is as¬ 
sisted by the very state which it counteracts, and this balance of 
antagonists becomes organized into meter by a supervening act of 
will or judgment, consciously and for the foreseen purpose of 
pleasure.” There is “an interpenetration of passion and of wOl, 
of spontaneous impulse and voluntary purpose.” Meter thus 
“tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility of both the gen¬ 
eral feelings and the attention. This effect it produces by the con¬ 
tinued excitement of surprise and the quick reciprocations of 
curiosity gratified and re-excited, which are too slight indeed to 
be at any one moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet be¬ 
come considerable in their aggregate influence.” Music compli¬ 
cates and intensifies the process of genial reciprocating antago¬ 
nism, suspense and reenforcement, where the various “voices” at 
once oppose and answer one another. 

Santayana has truly remarked: “Perceptions do not re¬ 
main in the mind, as would be suggested by the trite simile of the 
seal and the wax, passive and changeless, until time wears off 
their rough edges and makes them fade. No, perceptions fall into 
the brain rather as seeds into a furrowed field or even as sparks 
into a keg of gunpowder. Each image breeds a hundred more, 
sometimes slowly and subterraneously, sometimes (as when a 



157 


THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 

passionate train is started) with a sudden burst of fancy.” Even 
in abstract processes of thought, connection with the primary 
motor apparatus is not entirely severed, and the motor mechanism 
is linked up with reservoirs of energy in the sympathetic and 
endocrine system. An observation, an idea flashing into the mind, 
starts something. The result may be a too direct discharge to be 
rhythmic. There may be a display of rude undisciplined force. 
There may be a feebleness that allows energy to dissipate itself 
in idle day-dreaming. There may be too great openness of certain 
channels due to habits having become blind routines—when activity 
takes the form sometimes identified exclusively with “practical” 
doing. Unconscious fears of a world unfriendly to dominating 
desires breed inhibition of all action or confine it within familiar 
channels. There are multitudes of ways, varying between poles 
of tepid apathy and rough impatience, in which energy once 
aroused, fails to move in an ordered relation of accumulation, 
opposition, suspense and pause, toward final consummation of an 
experience. The latter is then inchoate, mechanical, or loose and 
diffuse. Such cases define, by contrast, the nature of rhythm and 
expression. 

Physically, if you turn a faucet only a little, resistance 
to the flow compels a conservation of energy until resistance is 
overcome. Then water comes in individual drops and at regular 
intervals. If a stream of water falls a sufficient distance, as in a 
cataract, surface tension causes the stream to reach the bottom 
in single globules. Polarity, or opposition of energies, is every¬ 
where necessary to the definition, the delimitation, that resolves 
an otherwise uniform mass and expanse into individual forms. At 
the same time the balanced distribution of opposite energies pro¬ 
vides the measure or order which prevents variation from becom¬ 
ing a disordered heterogeneity. Paintings as well as music, drama, 
and the novel are characterized by tension. In its obvious forms 
it is seen in the use of complementary colors, the contrast of fore¬ 
ground and background, of central and peripheral objects. In 
modern paintings, the necessary contrast and relation of light 
and dark is not attained by using shading, umbers and browns, 
but by pure colors each of which in itself is bright. Curves similar 
to one another are used in defining contours but with opposed 
direction, up and down, forward and back. Single lines also ex- 



158 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


hibit tension. As Leo Stein has remarked, “Tension in line can 
be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the 
force it takes to bend the line of a contour. This will depend upon 
the inherent elasticity of the line, the direction and energy im¬ 
parted by the previous portion, and so on.” The universality of 
use of intervals in works of art is significant. They are not breaks, 
since they bring about both individualized delimitation and pro¬ 
portionate distribution. They specify and they relate at the same 
time. 

The medium through which energy operates determines 
the resulting work. The resistance to be overcome in song, dance, 
and dramatic presentation is partly within the organism itself, 
embarrassment, fear, awkwardness, self-consciousness, lack of 
vitality, and partly in the audience addressed. Lyrical utterance 
and dance, the sounds emitted by musical instruments stir the at¬ 
mosphere or the ground. They do not have to meet the opposi¬ 
tion that is found in reshaping external material. Resistance is 
personal and consequences are directly personal on the side of 
both producer and consumer. Yet eloquent utterance is not writ 
in water. The organisms, the persons concerned are in some meas¬ 
ure remade. Composer, writer, painter, sculptor, work in a medium 
that is more external and at a greater remove from the audience 
than do actor, dancer, and musical performer. They reshape an ex¬ 
ternal material that offers resistance and sets up tensions within, 
while they are relieved of the pressure exercised by an immediate 
audience. The difference goes deep. It appeals to difference in 
temperament and talent and different moods in the audience. 
Painting and architecture cannot receive the direct excited 
simultaneous acclaim evoked by the theater, the dance, and the 
musical performance. The direct personal contact established by 
eloquence, music, and enacted drama is sui generis . 

The immediate effect of the plastic and architectural arts 
is not organic but in the enduring environing world. It is at once 
more indirect and more lasting. Song and drama recorded in 
letters, music that is written, take their place among the forma¬ 
tive arts. The effect of the objective modifications brought about 
in the formative arts is dual. On the one hand, there is a direct 
lowering of tension between man and the world. Man finds him¬ 
self more at home, since he is in a world that he has participated 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 159 

in making. He becomes habituated and relatively at ease. In 
some cases and within certain limits, the resulting greater ac¬ 
commodation of man and the environment to each other is unfa¬ 
vorable to further esthetic creation. Things are now too smooth; 
there is not enough irregularity to create demand for a new mani¬ 
festation and opportunity for a new rhythm. Art becomes stereo¬ 
typed, and contented with playing minor variations upon old 
themes in styles and manners that are agreeable because they 
are the channels of pleasant reminiscence. The environment is, 
in so far, exhausted, worn out, esthetically speaking. The recur¬ 
rence of the academic and eclectic in the arts is a phenomenon 
that cannot be ignored. And if we usually associate the academic 
with painting and sculpture rather than with, say, poetry or the 
novel, it is none the less true that the reliance of the latter upon 
stock scenes, variations of familiar situations and dressings-up 
of readily recognized types of character have all the traits that 
make us call a picture academic. 

But in time, this very familiarity sets up resistance in 
some minds. Familiar things are absorbed and become a deposit 
in which the seeds or sparks of new conditions set up a turmoil. 
When the old has not been incorporated, the outcome is merely 
eccentricity. But great original artists take a tradition into 
themselves. They have not shunned but digested it. Then the 
very conflict set up between it and what is new in themselves and 
in their environment creates the tension that demands a new 
mode of expression. Shakespeare may have had “little Latin and 
less Greek” but he was such an insatiable devourer of accessible 
material that he would have been a plagiarist if the material 
had not at once antagonized and cooperated with his personal 
vision by means of an equally insatiable curiosity concerning the 
life surrounding him. The great innovators in modern painting 
were more assiduous students of the pictures of the past than 
were the imitators who set the contemporary fashion. But the 
materials of their personal vision operated to oppose the old tra¬ 
ditions and out of the reciprocal conflict and reenforcement came 
new rhythms. 

In the facts indicated are the foundations of an esthetic 
theory based on art and not on extraneous preconceptions. Theory 
can be based only upon an understanding of the central role of 



160 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


energy within and without, and of that interaction of energies 
which institutes opposition in company with accumulation, conser¬ 
vation, suspense and interval, and cooperative movement toward 
fulfillment in an ordered, or rhythmical experience. Then the in¬ 
ward energy finds release in expression and the outward embodi¬ 
ment of energy in matter takes on form. Here we have a fuller 
and more explicit case of that relation between doing and under¬ 
going of organism and environment whose product is an experi¬ 
ence. The rhythm peculiar to different relations between doing 
and undergoing is the source of the distribution and apportion¬ 
ment of elements that conduces to directness and unity of per¬ 
ception. Lack of proper relationship and distribution produces 
a confusion that blocks singleness of perception. Just relationship 
produces the experience by virtue of which a work of art both 
excites and composes. The doing stirs while, undergone conse¬ 
quences bring a phase of tranquillity. A thorough and related 
undergoing effects an accumulation of energy that is the source 
of further discharge in activity. The resulting perception is 
ordered and dear and at the same time emotionally toned. 

It is possible to exaggerate the quality of serenity in art. 
There is no art without the composure that corresponds to design 
and composition in the object. But there is also none without 
resistance, tension, and exdtement; otherwise the calm induced 
is not one of fulfillment. In conception, things are distinguished 
that in perception and emotion belong together. The distinctions, 
which become antitheses in philosophic reflection, of sensuous 
and ideal, surface and content or meaning, of excitement and 
calm, do not exist in works of art; and they are not there merely be¬ 
cause conceptual oppositions have been overcome but because the 
work of art exists at a level of experience in which these distinc¬ 
tions of reflective thought have not arisen. From variety exdtement 
may occur, but in mere variety there are no resistances to be 
overcome and brought to a pause. There is nothing more diverse 
than furniture scattered about a sidewalk waiting for the moving 
van. Yet order and serenity do not emerge when these things are 
forced together in the van. They must be distributed in relation 
to one another as in the furnishing of a room to compose a whole. 
Cooperation of distribution and unification bring about that move¬ 
ment of change which exdtes and the fulfillment which calms. 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


77 


with this material it takes on new color and has new consequences. 
This is what happens when any natural impulse is idealized or 
spiritualized. That which elevates the embrace of lovers above 
the animal plane is just the fact that when it occurs it has taken 
into itself, as its own meaning, the consequences of these indirect 
excursions that are imagination in action. 

Expression is the clarification of turbid emotion; our appe¬ 
tites know themselves when they are reflected in the mirror of 
art, and as they know themselves they are transfigured. Emotion 
that is distinctively esthetic then occurs. It is not a form of senti¬ 
ment that exists independently from the outset. It is an emotion 
induced by material that is expressive, and because it is evoked 
by and attached to this material it consists of natural emotions 
that have been transformed. Natural objects, landscapes, for ex¬ 
ample, induce it. But they do so only because when they are 
matter of an experience they, too, have undergone a change 
similar to that which the painter or poet effects in converting 
the immediate scene into the matter of an act that expresses the 
value of what is seen. 

An irritated person is moved to do something. He cannot 
suppress his irritation by any direct act of will; at most he can 
only drive it by this attempt into a subterranean channel where 
it will work the more insidiously and destructively. He must act 
to get rid of it. But he can act in different ways, one direct, the 
other indirect, in manifestations of his state. He cannot sup¬ 
press it any more than he can destroy the action of electricity 
by a fiat of will. But he can harness one or the other to 
the accomplishment of new ends that will do away with the 
destructive force of the natural agency. The irritable person does 
not have to take it out on neighbors or members of his family 
to get relief. He may remember that a certain amount of regu¬ 
lated physical activity is good medicine. He sets to work tidying 
his room, straightening pictures that are askew, sorting papers, 
clearing out drawers, putting things in order generally. He uses 
his emotion, switching it into indirect channels prepared by prior 
occupations and interests. But since there is something in the 
utilization of these channels that is emotionally akin to the means 
by which his irritation would find direct discharge, as he puts 
objects in order his emotion is ordered. 



78 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


This transformation is of the very essence of the change 
that takes place in any and every natural or original emotional 
impulsion when it takes the indirect road of expression instead 
of the direct road of discharge. Irritation may be let go like an 
arrow directed at a target and produce some change in the 
outer world. But having an outer effect is something very dif¬ 
ferent from ordered use of objective conditions in order to give 
objective fulfillment to the emotion. The latter alone is expres¬ 
sion and the emotion that attaches itself to, or is interpenetrated 
by, the resulting object is esthetic. If the person in question puts 
his room to rights as a matter of routine he is anesthetic. But if 
his original emotion of impatient irritation has been ordered and 
tranquillized by what he has done, the orderly room reflects back 
to him the change that has taken place in himself. He feels not 
that he has accomplished a needed chore but has done something 
emotionally fulfilling. His emotion as thus “objectified” is esthetic. 


ESTHETIC emotion is thus something distinctive and yet not 
cut off by a chasm from other and natural emotional experiences, 
as some theorists in contending for its existence have made it to 
be. One familiar with recent literature on esthetics will be aware 
of a tendency to go to one extreme or the other. On one hand, it 
is assumed that there is in existence, at least in some gifted 
persons, an emotion that is aboriginally esthetic, and that artistic 
production and appreciation are the manifestations of this emo¬ 
tion. Such a conception is the inevitable logical counterpart of 
all attitudes that make art something esoteric and that relegate 
fine art to a realm separated by a gulf from everyday experiences. 
On the other hand, a reaction wholesome in intent against this 
view goes to the extreme of holding that there is no such thing 
as distinctively esthetic emotion. The emotion of affection that 
operates not through an overt act of caress but by searching out 
the observation or image of a soaring bird, the emotion of irri¬ 
tating energy that does not destroy or injure but that puts objects 
in satisfying order, is not numerically identical with its original 
and natural estate. Yet it stands in genetic continuity with it. The 
emotion that was finally wrought out by Tennyson in the compo¬ 
sition of “In Memoriam” was not identical with the emotion of 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


79 


grief that manifests itself in weeping and a downcast frame: the 
first is an act of expression, the second of discharge. Yet the 
continuity of the two emotions, the fact that the esthetic emotion 
is native emotion transformed through the objective material to 
which it has committed its development and consummation, is 
evident. 

Samuel Johnson with the Philistine’s sturdy preference 
for reproduction of the familiar, criticized Milton’s “Lycidas” in 
the following way: “It is not to be considered as the effusion of 
real passion, for passion runs not after remote allusions and ob¬ 
scure opinions. Passion plucks not berries from the myrtle and 
ivy, nor calls upon Arethusa and Mincius, nor tells of rough 
satyrs and fauns with cloven heel. Where there is leisure for 
fiction there is little grief.” Of course the underlying principle of 
Johnson’s criticism would prevent the appearance of any work 
of art. It would, in strict logic, confine the “expression” of grief 
to weeping and tearing the hair. Thus, while the particular 
subject matter of Milton’s poem would not be used today in an 
elegy, it, and any other work of art, is bound to deal with the 
remote in one of its aspects—namely, that remote from immediate 
effusion of emotion and from material that is worn out. Grief 
that has matured beyond the need of weeping and wailing for 
relief will resort to something of the sort that Johnson calls 
fiction—that is, imaginative material, although it be different 
matter from literature, classic and ancient myth. In all primitive 
peoples wailing soon assumes a ceremonial form that is “remote” 
from its native manifestation. 

In other words, art is not nature, but is nature trans¬ 
formed by entering into new relationships where it evokes a new 
emotional response. Many actors remain outside the particular 
emotion they portray. This fact is known as Diderot’s paradox 
since he first developed the theme. In fact, it is paradox only 
from the standpoint implied in the quotation from Samuel John¬ 
son. More recent inquiries have shown, indeed, that there are two 
types of actors. There are those who report that they are at their 
best when they “lose” themselves emotionally in their roles. Yet 
this fact is no exception to the principle that has been stated. 
For, after all, it is a role, a “part” with which actors identify 
themselves. As a part, it is conceived and treated as part of a 



80 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


whole; if there is art in acting, the role is subordinated so as to 
occupy the position of a part in the whole. It is thereby qualified 
by esthetic form. Even those who feel most poignantly the emo¬ 
tions of the character represented do not lose consciousness that 
they are on a stage where there are other actors taking part; 
that they are before an audience, and that they must, therefore, 
cooperate with other players in creating a certain effect. These 
facts demand and signify a definite transformation of the primi¬ 
tive emotion. Portrayal of intoxication is a common device of 
the comic stage. But a man actually drunken would have to use 
art to conceal his condition if he is not to disgust his audience, 
or at least to excite a laughter that differs radically from that 
excited by intoxication when acted. The difference between the 
two types of actors is not a difference between expression of an 
emotion controlled by the relations of the situation into which it 
enters and a manifestation of raw emotion. It is a difference in 
methods of bringing about the desired effect, a difference doubt¬ 
less connected with personal temperament. 

Finally, what has been said locates, even if it does not 
solve, the vexed problem of the relation of esthetic or fine art 
to other modes of production also called art. The difference that 
exists in fact cannot be leveled, as we have already seen, by 
defining both in terms of technique and skill. But neither can it 
be erected into a barrier that is insuperable by referring the cre¬ 
ation of fine art to an impulse that is unique, separated from 
impulsions which work in modes of expression not usually brought 
under the caption of fine art. Conduct can be sublime and man¬ 
ners gracious. If impulsion toward organization of material so 
as to present the latter in a form directly fulfilling in experience 
had no existence outside the arts of painting, poetry, music, and 
sculpture, it would not exist anywhere; there would be no fine 
art. 

The problem of conferring esthetic quality upon all modes 
of production is a serious problem. But it is a human problem 
for human solution; not a problem incapable of solution because 
it is set by some unpassable gulf in human nature or in the nature 
of things. In an imperfect society—and no society will ever be 
perfect—fine art will be to some extent an escape from, or an 
adventitious decoration of, the main activities of living. But in 



THE ACT OF EXPRESSION 


81 


a better-ordered society than that in which we live, an infinitely 
greater happiness than is now the case would attend all modes 
of production. We live in a world in which there is an immense 
amount of organization, but it is an external organization, not 
one of the ordering of a growing experience, one that involves, 
moreover, the whole of the live creature, toward a fulfilling 
conclusion. Works of art that are pot remote from common life, 
that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified 
collective life. But they are also marvelous aids in the creation 
of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the 
act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist 
and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. 
In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking 
of the experience of the community in the direction of greater 
order and unity. 



CHAPTER V 


THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


E XPRESSION, like construction, signifies both an action and 
its result. The last chapter considered it as an act. We are now 
concerned with the product, the object that is expressive, that 
says something to us. If the two meanings are separated, the 
object is viewed in isolation from the operation which produced 
it, and therefore apart from individuality of vision, since the act 
proceeds from an individual live creature. Theories which seize 
upon “expression,” as if it denoted simply the object, always 
insist to the uttermost that the object of art is purely representa¬ 
tive of other objects already in existence. They ignore the indi¬ 
vidual contribution which makes the object something new. They 
dwell upon its “universal” character, and upon its meaning—an 
ambiguous term, as we shall see. On the other hand, isolation of 
the act of expressing from the expressiveness possessed by the 
object leads to the notion that expression is merely a process of 
discharging personal emotion—the conception criticized in the 
last chapter. 

The juice expressed by the wine press is what it is because 
of a prior act, and it is something new and distinctive. It does not 
merely represent other things. Yet it has something in common 
with other objects and it is made to appeal to other persons than 
the one who produced it. A poem and picture present material 
passed through the alembic of personal experience. They have no 
precedents in existence or in universal being. But, nonetheless, 
their material came from the public world and so has qualities in 
common with the material of other experiences, while the product 
awakens in other persons new perceptions of the meanings of the 
common world. The oppositions of individual and universal, of 
subjective and objective, of freedom and order, in which philoso¬ 
phers have reveled, have no place in the work of art. Expression 
as personal act and as objective result are organically connected 
with each other. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


83 


It is not necessary, therefore, to go into these metaphysical 
questions. We may approach the matter directly. What does it 
mean to say that a work of art is representative, since it must be 
representative in some sense if it is expressive? To say in general 
that a work of art is or is not representative is meaningless. For 
the word has many meanings. An affirmation of representative 
quality may be false in one sense and true in another. If literal 
reproduction is signified by “representative” then the work of art 
is not of that nature, for such a view ignores the uniqueness of 
the work due to the personal medium through which scenes and 
events have passed. Matisse said that the camera was a great 
boon to painters, since it relieved them from any apparent neces¬ 
sity of copying objects. But representation may also mean that 
the work of art tells something to those who enjoy it about the 
nature of their own experience of the world: that it presents the 
world in a new experience which they undergo. 

A similar ambiguity attends the question of meaning in a 
work of art. Words are symbols which represent objects and 
actions in the sense of standing for them; in that sense they have 
meaning. A signboard has meaning when it says so many miles 
to such and such a place, with an arrow pointing the direction. 
But meaning in these two cases has a purely external reference; 
it stands for something by pointing to it. Meaning does not belong 
to the word and signboard of its own intrinsic right. They have 
meaning in the sense in which an algebraic formula or a cipher 
code has it. But there are other meanings that present themselves 
directly as possessions of objects which are experienced. Here 
there is no need for a code or convention of interpretation; the 
meaning is as inherent in immediate experience as is that of a 
flower garden. Denial of meaning to a work of art thus has two 
radically different significations. It may signify that a work of 
art has not the kind of meaning that belongs to signs and sym¬ 
bols in mathematics—a contention that is just. Or it may signify 
that the work of art is without meaning as nonsense is without it. 
The work of art certainly does not have that which is had by 
flags when used to signal another ship. But it does have that pos¬ 
sessed by flags when they are used to decorate the deck of a ship 
for a dance. 

Since there are presumably none who intend to assert that 



84 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


works of art are without meaning in the sense of being sense¬ 
less, it might seem as if they simply intended to exclude external 
meaning, meaning that resides outside the work of art itself. 
Unfortunately, however, the case is not so simple. The denial of 
meaning to art usually rests upon the assumption that the kind 
of value (and meaning) that a work of art possesses is so unique 
that it is without community or connection with the contents of 
other modes of experience than the esthetic. It is, in short, another 
way of upholding what I have called the esoteric idea of fine art. 
The conception implied in the treatment of esthetic experience 
set forth in the previous chapters is, indeed, that the work of 
art has a unique quality, but that it is that of clarifying and con¬ 
centrating meanings contained in scattered and weakened ways 
In the material of other experiences. 

The problem In hand may be approached by drawing a 
distinction between expression and statement. Science states 
meanings; art expresses them. It is possible that this remark will 
itself illustrate the difference I have in mind better than will any 
amount of explanatory comment. Yet I venture upon some degree 
of amplification. The instance of a signboard may help. It directs 
one’s course to a place, say a city. It does not in any way supply 
experience of that city even in a vicarious way. What it does do 
is to set forth some of the conditions that must be fulfilled in 
order to procure that experience. What holds in this instance may 
be generalized. Statement sets forth the conditions under which 
an experience of an object or situation may be had. It is a good, 
that is, effective, statement in the degree in which these conditions 
are stated in such a way that they can be used as directions by 
which one may arrive at the experience. It is a bad statement, 
confused and false, if it sets forth these conditions in such a way 
that when they are used as directions, they mislead or take one 
to the object in a wasteful way. 

“Science” signifies just that mode of statement that is 
most helpful as direction. To take the old standard case—which 
science today seems bent upon modifying—the statement that 
water is H 2 0 is primarily a statement of the conditions under 
which water comes into existence. But it is also for those who 
understand it a direction for producing pure water and for testing 
anything that is likely to be taken for water. It is a “better” 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


8S 


statement than popular and pre-scientific ones just because in 
stating the conditions for the existence of water comprehensively 
and exactly, it sets them forth in a way that gives direction con¬ 
cerning generation of water. Such, however, is the newness of 
scientific statement and its present prestige (due ultimately to its 
directive efficacy) that scientific statement is often thought to 
possess more than a signboard function and to disclose or be 
“expressive” of the inner nature of things. If it did, it would come 
into competition with art, and we should have to take sides and 
decide which of the two promulgates the more genuine revelation. 

The poetic as distinct from the prosaic, esthetic art as dis- 
tinct from scientific, expression as distinct from statement, does 
something different from leading to an experience. It constitutes 
one. A traveler who follows the statement or direction of a sign¬ 
board finds himself in the city that has been pointed towards. He 
then may have in his own experience some of the meaning which 
the city possesses. We may have it to such an extent that the city 
has expressed itself to him—as Tintern Abbey expressed itself to 
Wordsworth in and through his poem. The city might, indeed, be 
trying to express itself in a celebration attended with pageantry 
and all other resources that would render its history and spirit 
perceptible. Then there is, if the visitor has himself the experience 
that permits him to participate, an expressive object, as different 
from the statements of a gazetteer, however full and correct they 
might be, as Wordsworth's poem is different from the account of 
Tintern Abbey given by an antiquarian. The poem, or painting, 
does not operate in the dimension of correct descriptive statement 
but in that of experience itself. Poetry and prose, literal photo¬ 
graph and painting, operate in different media to distinct ends. 
Prose is set forth in propositions. The logic of poetry is super- 
propositional even when it uses what are, grammatically speaking, 
propositions. The latter have intent; art is an immediate realiza¬ 
tion of intent. 

Van Gogh's letters to his brother are filled with accounts 
of things he has observed and many of which he painted. I cite 
one of many instances. “I have a view of the Rhone—the iron 
bridge at Trinquetaille, in which sky and river are the color of 
absinthe, the quays a shade of lilac, the figures leaning on the 
parapet, blackish, the iron bridge an intense blue, with a note of 



86 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


vivid orange in the background, and a note of intense malachite.” 
Here is statement of a sort calculated to lead his brother to a 
like “view.” But who, from the words alone—“I am trying to get 
something utterly heart-broken”—could infer the transition that 
Vincent himself makes to the particular expressiveness he desired 
to achieve in his picture? These words taken by themselves are 
not the expression; they only hint at it. The expressiveness, the 
esthetic meaning, is the picture itself. But the difference between 
the description of the scene and what he was striving for may 
remind us of the difference between statement and expression. 

There may have been something accidental in the physical 
scene itself which left Van Gogh with the impression of utter 
desolation. Yet the meaning is there; it is there as something 
beyond the occasion of the painter’s private experience, something 
that he takes to be there potentially for others. Its incorporation 
is the picture. Words cannot duplicate the expressiveness of the 
object. But words can point out that the picture is not “repre¬ 
sentative” of just a particular bridge over the Rhone River, nor 
yet of a broken heart, not even of Van Gogh’s own emotion of 
desolation that happened somehow to be first excited and then 
absorbed by (and into) the scene. He aimed, through pictorial 
presentation of material that any one on the spot might “observe,” 
that thousands had observed, to present a new object experienced 
as having its own unique meaning. Emotional turmoil and an 
external episode fused in an object which was “expressive” of 
neither of them separately nor yet of a mechanical junction of the 
two, but of just the meaning of the “utterly heart-broken.” He 
did not pour forth the emotion of desolation; that was impossible. 
He selected and organized an external subject matter with a view 
to something quite different—an expression. And in the degree in 
which he succeeded the picture is, of necessity, expressive. 

Roger Fry, in commenting upon the characteristic features 
of modern painting, has generalized as follows: “Almost any turn 
of the kaleidoscope of nature may set up in the artist a detached 
and esthetic vision, and, as he contemplates the particular field 
of vision, the (esthetically) chaotic and accidental contemplation 
of forms and colours begins to crystallize into a harmony; and, 
as this harmony becomes clear to the artist, his actual vision 
becomes distorted by the emphasis of the rhythm that is set up 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


87 


within him. Certain relations of line become for him full of mean* 
ing; he apprehends them no longer curiously but passionately, 
and these lines begin to be so stressed and stand out so clearly 
from the rest that he sees them more distinctly than he did at 
first. Similarly, colours which in nature have almost always a cer¬ 
tain vagueness and elusiveness, become so definite and clear to 
him, owing to their now so necessary relation to other colours, 
that, if he chooses to paint his vision, he can state it positively and 
definitely. In such a creative vision, the objects as such tend to 
disappear, to lose their separate unities and to take their place 
as so many bits in the whole mosaic of vision.” 

The passage seems to me an excellent account of the sort 
of thing that takes place in artistic perception and construction. 
It makes clear two things: Representation is not, if the vision 
has been artistic or constructive (creative), of “objects as such,” 
that is of items in the natural scene as they literally occur or are 
recalled. It is not the kind of representation that a camera 
would report if a detective, say, were preserving the scene 
for his own purpose. Moreover, the reason for this fact is 
clearly set forth. Certain relations of lines and colors become 
important, “full of meaning,” and everything else is subordi¬ 
nated to the evocation of what is implied in these relations, 
omitted, distorted, added to, transformed, to convey the relation¬ 
ships. One thing may be added to what is said. The painter did 
not approach the scene with an empty mind, but with a back¬ 
ground of experiences long ago funded into capacities and likes, 
or with a commotion due to more recent experiences. He comes 
with a mind waiting, patient, willing to be impressed and yet 
not without bias and tendency in vision. Hence lines and color 
crystallize in this harmony rather than in that. This especial 
mode of harmonization is not the exclusive result of the lines 
and colors. It is a function of what is in the actual scene in its 
interaction with what the beholder brings with him. Some subtle 
affinity with the current of his own experience as a live creature 
causes lines and colors to arrange themselves in one pattern and 
rhythm rather than in another. The passionateness that marks 
observation goes with the development of the new form—it is 
the distinctly esthetic emotion that has been spoken of. But it 
is not independent of some prior emotion that has stirred in the 



88 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


artist’s experience; the latter is renewed and recreated through 
fusion with an emotion belonging to vision of esthetically quali¬ 
fied material. 

If these considerations are borne in mind, a certain am¬ 
biguity that attaches to the passage quoted will be cleared up. 
He speaks of lines and their relations being full of meaning. But 
for anything explicitly stated, the meaning to which he refers 
might be exclusively of lines in their relations to one another. 
Then the meanings of lines and colors would completely replace 
all meanings that attach to this and any other experience of natu¬ 
ral scene. In that case, the meaning of the esthetic object is 
unique in the sense of separation from meanings of everything 
else experienced. The work of art is then expressive only in the 
sense that it expresses something which belongs exclusively to 
art. That something of this kind is intended may be inferred 
from another statement of Mr. Fry’s that is often quoted, to the 
effect that “subject matter” in a work of art is always irrelevant, 
if not actually detrimental. 

Thus the passages quoted bring to a focus the problem of 
the nature of “representation” in art. The emphasis of the first 
passage upon emergence of new lines and colors in new relations 
is needed. It saves those who heed it from the assumption, usual 
in practice if not in theory especially in connection with painting, 
that representation signifies either imitation or agreeable reminis¬ 
cence. But the statement that subject-matter is irrelevant commits 
those who accept it to a completely esoteric theory of art. Mr. 
Fry goes on to say: “In so far as the artist looks at objects only 
as parts of a whole field of vision which is his own potential 
theory, he can give no account of their esthetic value.” And he 
adds: “... the artist is of all men the most constantly observant 
of his surroundings, and the least affected by their intrinsic 
esthetic value.” Otherwise, how explain the tendency of the 
painter to turn away from scenes and objects that possess obvious 
esthetic value to things that stir him because of some oddity 
and form? Why is he more likely to paint Soho than St. Paul’s? 

The tendency to which Mr. Fry refers is an actual one, 
just as is the tendency of critics to condemn a picture on the 
ground that its subject matter is “sordid,” or eccentric. But it is 
equally true, that any authentic artist will avoid material that 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


89 


has previously been esthetically exploited to the full and will 
seek out material in which his capacity for individual vision and 
rendering can have free play. He leaves it to lesser men to go on 
saying with slight variations what has already been said. Before 
we decide that such considerations as these do not explain the 
tendency to which Mr. Fry refers, before we draw the particular 
inference he draws, we must return to the force of a consideration 
already noted. 

Mr. Fry is intent upon establishing a radical difference 
between esthetic values that are intrinsic to things of ordinary ex¬ 
perience and the esthetic value with which the artist is concerned. 
His implication is that the former is directly connected with 
subject matter, the latter with form that is separated from any 
subject matter, save what is, esthetically, an accident. Were it 
possible for an artist to approach a scene with no interests and 
attitudes, no background of values, drawn from his prior ex¬ 
perience, he might, theoretically, see lines and colors exclu¬ 
sively in terms of their relationships as lines and colors. But this 
is a condition impossible to fulfill. Moreover, in such a case there 
would be nothing for him to become passionate about. Before an 
artist can develop his reconstruction of the scene before him in 
terms of the relations of colors and lines characteristic of his 
picture, he observes the scene with meanings and values brought 
to his perception by prior experiences. These are indeed remade, 
transformed, as his new esthetic vision takes shape. But they 
cannot vanish and yet the artist continue to see an object. No 
matter how ardently the artist might desire it, he cannot divest 
himself, in his new perception, of meanings funded from his past 
intercourse with his surroundings, nor can he free himself from 
the influence they exert upon the substance and manner of his 
present seeing. If he could and did, there would be nothing left 
in the way of an object for him to see. 

Aspects and states of his prior experience of varied subject- 
matters have been wrought into his being; they are the organs 
with which he perceives. Creative vision modifies these materials. 
They take their place in an unprecedented object of a new ex¬ 
perience. Memories, not necessarily conscious but retentions that 
have been organically incorporated in the very structure of the 
self, feed present observation. They are the nutriment that gives 



90 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


body to what is seen. As they are rewrought into the matter of 
the new experience, they give the newly created object expressive¬ 
ness. 

Suppose the artist wishes to portray by means of his 
medium the emotional state or the enduring character of some 
person. By the compelling force of his medium, he will, if an 
artist—that is, if a painter, with disciplined respect for his 
medium—modify the object present to him. He will resee the 
object in terms of lines, colors, light, space—relations that form a 
pictorial whole, that is, that create an object immediately enjoyed 
in perception. In denying that the artist attempts to represent in 
the sense of literal reproduction of colors, lines, etc., as they al¬ 
ready exist in the object, Mr. Fry is admirably right. But the 
inference that there is no re-presentation of any meanings of any 
subject matter whatever, no presentation that is of a subject 
matter having a meaning of its own which clarifies and concen¬ 
trates the diffused and dulled meanings of other experiences does 
not follow. Generalize Mr. Fry’s contention regarding painting 
by extension to drama or poetry and the latter cease to be. 

The difference between the two kinds of representation 
may be indicated by reference to drawing. A person with a knack 
can easily jot down lines that suggest fear, rage, amusement, and 
so on. He indicates elation by lines curved in one direction, sorrow 
by curves in the opposite direction. But the result is not an object 
of perception . What is seen passes at once over into the thing 
suggested. The drawing is similar in kind though not in its con¬ 
stituents to a signboard. The object indicates rather than contains 
meaning. Its value is like that of the signboard to the motorist 
in the direction it gives to further activity. The arrangement of 
lines and spaces is not enjoyed in perception because of its own 
experienced quality but because of what it reminds us of. 

There is another great difference between expression and 
statement. The latter is generalized. An intellectual statement is 
valuable in the degree in which it conducts the mind to many 
things all of the same kind. It is effective in the extent to which, 
like an even pavement, it transports us easily to many places. 
The meaning of an expressive object, on the contrary, is indi¬ 
vidualized. The diagrammatic drawing that suggests grief does not 
convey the grief of an individual person; it exhibits the kind of 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 91 

facial “expression” persons in general manifest when suffering 
grief. The esthetic portrayal of grief manifests the grief of a 
particular individual in connection with a particular event. It is 
that state of sorrow which is depicted, not depression unattached. 
It has a local habitation. 

A state of beatitude is a common theme in religious paint¬ 
ings. Saints are presented as enjoying a condition of blissful 
happiness. But in most of the earlier religious paintings, this state 
is indicated rather than expressed. The lines that set it forth for 
identification are like propositional signs. They are almost as 
much of a set and generalized nature as the halo that surrounds 
the heads of saints. Information is conveyed of an edifying char¬ 
acter by symbols as conventional as those which are brought in 
to distinguish various St. Catherines or to mark the different 
Marys at the foot of the cross. There is no necessary relation, but 
only an association cultivated in ecclesiastical circles between the 
generic state of bliss and the particular figure in question. It may 
arouse a similar emotion in persons who still cherish the same 
associations. But instead of being esthetic, it will be of the kind 
described by William James: “I remember seeing an English 
couple sit for more than an hour on a piercing February day in 
the Academy in Venice before the celebrated ‘Assumption’ by 
Titian; and when I, after being chased from room to room by the 
cold, concluded to get into the sunshine as fast as possible and 
let the pictures go, but before leaving drew reverently near to 
them to learn with what superior forms of susceptibility they 
might be endowed, all I overheard was the woman’s voice mur¬ 
muring: ‘What a deprecatory expression her face wears! What 
self-abnega*«w/ How unworthy she feels of the honor she is 
receiving.’ ” 

The sentimental religiosity of Murillo’s paintings affords 
a good example of what happens when a painter of undoubted 
talent subordinates his artistic sense to associated “meanings” 
that are artistically irrelevant. Before his paintings, the type of 
remark that was wholly out of place in the case of Titian would 
be pertinent. But it would carry with it a lack of esthetic ful¬ 
fillment. 

Giotto painted saints. But their faces are less conventional; 
they are more individual and hence more naturalistically por- 



92 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


trayed. At the same time they are more esthetically presented. 
The artist now uses light, space, color and line, the media, to 
present an object that belongs of itself in an enjoyed perceptual 
experience. The distinctive human religious meaning and the dis¬ 
tinctive esthetic value interpenetrate and fuse; the object is truly 
expressive. This part of the picture is as unmistakably a Giotto 
as the saints of Masaccio are Masaccios. Bliss is not a stencil 
transferable from one painter’s work to that of another, but bears 
the marks of its individual creator, for it expresses his experience 
as well as that presumed to belong to a saint in general. Meaning 
is more fully expressed, even in its essential nature, in an indi¬ 
vidualized form than in a diagrammatic representation or in a 
literal copy. The latter contains too much that is irrelevant; the 
former is too indefinite. An artistic relationship between color, 
light, and space in a portrait is not only more enjoyable than is an 
outline stencil but it says more. In a portrait by Titian, Tinto¬ 
retto, Rembrandt, or Goya, we seem to be in the presence of 
essential character. But the result is accomplished by strictly 
plastic means, while the very way in which backgrounds are 
handled gives us something more than personality. Distortion of 
lines and departures from actual color may not only add to 
esthetic effect but result in increased expressiveness. For then 
material is not subordinated to some particular and antecedent 
meaning entertained about the person in question (and a literal 
reproduction can give only a cross-section exhibited at a particular 
moment), but it is reconstructed and reorganized to express the 
artist’s imaginative vision of the whole being of the person. 

There is no more common misunderstanding of painting 
than attends the nature of drawing. The observer, who has learned 
to recognize but not to perceive esthetically, will stand before a 
Botticelli, an El Greco, or Cezanne and say “What a pity the 
painter has never learned to draw.” Yet drawing may be the 
artist’s forte. Dr. Barnes has pointed out the real function of 
drawing in pictures. It is not a means for securing expressiveness 
in general but a very special value of expression. It is not a 
means of assisting recognition by means of exact outline and 
definite shading. Drawing is drawing out; it is extraction of what 
the subject matter has to say in particular to the painter in his 
integrated experience. Because the painting is a unity of inter- 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


93 


related parts, every designation of a particular figure has, more¬ 
over, to be drawn into a relation of mutual reenforcement with 
all other plastic means—color, light, the spatial planes and the 
placing of other parts. This integration may, and in fact does, 
involve what is, from the standpoint of the shape of the real 
thing, a physical distortion * 

Linear outlines that are used to reproduce with accuracy 
a particular shape are of necessity limited in expressiveness. They 
express either just one thing, “realistically” as it is sometimes said, 
or they express a generalized kind of thing by which we recog¬ 
nize the species—being a man, a tree, a saint, or whatever. Lines 
esthetically “drawn” fulfill many functions with corresponding 
increase of expressiveness. They embody the meaning of volume, 
of room and position; solidity and movement; they enter into the 
force of all other parts of the picture, and they serve to relate 
all parts together so that the value of the whole is energetically 
expressed. No mere skill in draughtsmanship can make lines that 
will fulfill all these functions. On the contrary, isolated skill in 
this respect is practically sure to end in a construction wherein 
linear outlines stand out by themselves, thus marring the expres¬ 
siveness of the work as a whole. In the historical development 
of painting, the determination of shapes by drawing has steadily 
progressed from giving a pleasing indication of a particular object 
to become a relationship of planes and a harmonious merging 
of colors. 

“Abstract” art may seem to be an exception to what has 
been said about expressiveness and meaning. Works of abstract 
art are asserted by some not to be works of art at all, and by 
others to be the very acme of art. The latter estimate them by 
their remoteness from representation in its literal sense; the 
former deny they have any expressiveness. The solution of the 
matter is found, I think, in the following statement of Dr. 
Barnes. “Reference to the real world does not disappear from art 
as forms cease to be those of actually existing things, any more 
than objectivity disappears from science when it ceases to talk 
in terms of earth, fire, air and water, and substitutes for these 
things the less easily recognizable ‘hydrogen/ ‘oxygen/ ‘nitrogen/ 

♦Barnes, "The Art in Painting,” pp. 86 and 126, and “The Art of 
Matisse,” the chapter on Drawing, especially pp. 81-82. 



94 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


and ‘carbon.*... When we cannot find in a picture representation 
of any particular object, what it represents may be the qualities 
which all particular objects share, such as color, extensity, solidity, 
movement, rhythm, etc. All particular things have these qualities; 
hence what serves, so to speak, as a paradigm of the visible 
essence of all things may hold in solution the emotions which 
individualized things provoke in a more specialized way.” * 

Art does not, in short, cease to be expressive because it 
renders in visible form relations of things, without any more 
indication of the particulars that have the relations than is neces¬ 
sary to compose a whole. Every work of art “abstracts” in some 
degree from the particular traits of objects expressed. Otherwise, 
it would only, by means of exact imitation, create an illusion of 
the presence of the things themselves. The ultimate subject matter 
of still life painting is highly “realistic”—napery, pans, apples, 
bowls. But a still life by Chardin or Cezanne presents these mate¬ 
rials in terms of relations of lines, planes and colors inherently 
enjoyed in perception. This re-ordering could not occur without 
some measure of “abstraction” from physical existence. Indeed, 
the very attempt to present three-dimensional objects on a two- 
dimensional plane demands abstraction from the usual conditions 
in which they exist. There is no a priori rule to decide how far 
abstraction may be carried. In a work of art the proof of the 
pudding is decidedly in the eating. There are still-lifes of Cezanne 
in which one of the objects is actually levitated. Yet the expres¬ 
siveness of the whole to an observer with esthetic vision is en¬ 
hanced not lowered. It carries further a trait which every one 
takes for granted in looking at a picture; namely, that no object 
in the picture is physically supported by any other. The support 
they give to one another Mes in their respective contributions to 
the perceptual experience. Expression of the readiness of objects 
to move, although temporarily sustained in equilibrium, Is intensi¬ 
fied by abstraction from conditions that are physically and ex¬ 
ternally possible. “Abstraction” is usually associated with dis¬ 
tinctively intellectual undertakings. Actually it is found in every 
work of art. The difference is the interest in which and purpose 
for which abstraction takes place in science and art respectively. 

* “The Art in Painting,” p. 52. The origin of the idea is referred to Dr. 
Buermeyer. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


95 


In science it occurs for the sake of effective statement, as that 
has been defined; in art, for the sake of expressiveness of the 
object, and the artist’s own being and experience determine what 
shall be expressed and therefore the nature and extent of the 
abstraction that occurs. 

It is everywhere accepted that art involves selection. 
Lack of selection or undirected attention results in unorganized 
miscellany. The directive source of selection is interest; an uncon¬ 
scious but organic bias toward certain aspects and values of the 
complex and variegated universe in which we live. In no case can 
a work of art rival the infinite concreteness of nature. An artist 
is ruthless, when he selects, in following the logic of his interest 
while he adds to his selective bent an efflorescence or “abounding” 
in the sense or direction in which he is drawn. The one limit that 
must not be overpassed is that some reference to the qualities and 
structure of things in environment remain. Otherwise, the artist 
works in a purely private frame of reference and the outcome is 
without sense, even if vivid colors or loud sounds are present. 
The distance between scientific forms and concrete objects shows 
the extent to which different arts may carry their selective trans¬ 
formations without losing reference to the objective frame of 
reference. 

The nudes of Renoir give delight with no pornographic 
suggestion. The voluptuous qualities of flesh are retained, even 
accentuated. But conditions of the physical existence of nude 
bodies have been abstracted from. Through abstraction and by 
means of the medium of color, ordinary associations with bare 
bodies are transferred into a new realm, for these associations 
are practical stimuli which disappear in the work of art. The 
esthetic expels the physical, and the heightening of qualities 
common to flesh with flowers ejects the erotic. The conception 
that objects have fixed and unalterable values is precisely the 
prejudice from which art emancipates us. The intrinsic qualities 
of things come out with startling vigor and freshness just because 
conventional associations are removed. 

The moot problem of the place of the ugly in works 
of art seems to me to receive its solution when its terms are seen 
in this context. That to which the word “ugly” is applied is the 
object in its customary associations, those which have come to 



96 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


appear an inherent part of some object. It does not apply to what 
is present in the picture or drama. There is transformation be¬ 
cause of emergence in an object having its own expressiveness: 
exactly as in the case of Renoir’s nudes. Something which was 
ugly under other conditions, the usual ones, is extracted from 
the conditions in which it was repulsive and is transfigured in 
quality as it becomes a part of an expressive whole. In its new 
setting, the very contrast with a former ugliness adds piquancy, 
animation, and, in serious matters, increases depth of meaning 
in an almost incredible way. 

The peculiar power of tragedy to leave us at the end with 
a sense of reconciliation rather than with one of horror forms 
the theme of one of the oldest discussions of literary art.* I quote 
one theory which is relevant to the present discussion. Samuel 
Johnson said: “The delight of tragedy proceeds from our con¬ 
sciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real 
they would please us no more.” This explanation seems to be con¬ 
structed on the model of the small boy’s statement that pins had 
saved many persons’ lives “on account of their not swallowing 
them.” The absence of reality in the dramatic event is, indeed, a 
negative condition of the effect of tragedy. But fictitious killing is 
not therefore pleasant. The positive fact is that a particular sub¬ 
ject matter in being removed from its practical context has entered 
into a new whole as an integral part of it. In its new relation¬ 
ships, it acquires a new expression. It becomes a qualitative part 
of a new qualitative design. Mr. Colvin after quoting from John¬ 
son the passage just cited, adds: “So does our peculiar con¬ 
sciousness of pleasure in watching the fencing match in ‘As You 
Like It,’ depend on our consciousness of fiction.” Here, too, a 
negative condition is treated as a positive force. “Consciousness 
of fiction” is a backhanded way of expressing something that in 

*1 cannot but think that the amount of thought which has been 
devoted to finding ingenious explanations for the Aristotelian idea of catharsis 
is due rather to the fascination of the topic than to any subtlety on Aristotle's 
part The sixty or more meanings that have been given to it seem unnecessary 
in view of his own literal statement that persons are given to excessive emo¬ 
tion, and that as religious music cures people in religious frenzy “like persons 
cured by a drug,” so the excessively timid and compassionate, and all suffering 
from over-intense emotions, are purged by melodies, and the relief is agree¬ 
able. 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


97 


itself is intensely positive: the consciousness of an integral whole 
in which an incident gets a new qualitative value. 


IN discussing the act of expression, we saw that the conversion 
of an act of immediate discharge into one of expression depends 
upon existence of conditions that impede direct manifestation 
and that switch it into a channel where it is coordinated with 
other impulsions. The inhibition of the original raw emotion is 
not a suppression of it; restraint is not, in art, identical with 
constraint. The impulsion is modified by collateral tendencies; the 
modification gives it added meaning—the meaning of the whole of 
which it is henceforth a constituent part. In esthetic perception, 
there are two modes of collateral and cooperative response which 
are involved in the change of direct discharge into an act of 
expression. These two ways of subordination and reenforcement 
explain the expressiveness of the perceived object. By their means, 
a particular incident ceases to be a stimulus to direct action and 
becomes a value of a perceived object. 

The first of these collateral factors is the existence of 
motor dispositions previously formed. A surgeon, golfer, ball 
player, as well as a dancer, painter, or violin-player has at hand 
and under command certain motor sets of the body. Without 
them, no complex skilled act can be performed. An inexpert hunts¬ 
man has buck fever when he suddenly comes upon the game he 
has been pursuing. He does not have effective lines of motor 
response ready and waiting. His tendendes to action therefore 
conflict and get in the way of one another, and the result is con¬ 
fusion, a whirl and blur. The old hand at the game may be emo¬ 
tionally stirred also. But he works off his emotion by directing his 
response along channels prepared in advance: steady holding of 
eye and hand, sighting of rifle, etc. If we substitute a painter or 
a poet in the drcumstances of suddenly coming upon a graceful 
deer in a green and sun-specked forest, there is also diversion of 
immediate response into collateral channels. He does not get 
ready to shoot, but neither does he permit his response to diffuse 
itself at random through his whole body. The motor coordinations 
that are ready because of prior experience at once render his per¬ 
ception of the situation more acute and intense and incorporate 



98 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


into it meanings that give it depth, while they also cause what 
is seen to fall into fitting rhythms. 

I have been speaking from the standpoint of the one who 
acts. But precisely similar considerations hold from the side of 
the perceiver. There must be indirect and collateral channels of 
response prepared in advance in the case of one who really sees 
the picture or hears the music. This motor preparation is a large 
part of esthetic education in any particular line. To know what 
to look for and how to see it is an affair of readiness on the part 
of motor equipment. A skilled surgeon is the one who appreciates 
the artistry of another surgeon’s performance; he follows it sym¬ 
pathetically, though not overtly, in his own body. The one who 
knows something about the relation of the movements of the 
piano-player to the production of music from the piano will hear 
something the mere layman does not perceive—just as the expert 
performer “fingers” music while engaged in reading a score. 
One does not have to know much about mixing paints on a palette 
or about the brush-strokes that transfer pigments to canvas to 
see the picture in the painting. But it is necessary that there be 
ready defined channels of motor response, due in part to native 
constitution and in part to education through experience. Emo¬ 
tion may be stirred and yet be as irrelevant to the act of percep¬ 
tion as it is to the action of the hunter seized by buck-fever. It is 
not too much to say that emotion that lacks proper motor lines 
of operation will be so undirected as to confuse and distort per¬ 
ception. 

But something is needed to cooperate with defined motor 
lines of response. An unprepared person at the theater may be so 
ready to take an active part in what is going on—in helping the 
hero and foiling the villain as he would like to do in real life—as 
not to see the play. But a blasd critic may permit his trained 
modes of technical response—ultimately always motor—to con¬ 
trol him to such an extent that, while he skillfully apprehends how 
things are done, he does not care for what is expressed. The 
other factor that is required in order that a work may be expres¬ 
sive to a percipient is meanings and values extracted from 
prior experiences and funded in such a way that they fuse with 
the qualities directly presented in the work of art. Technical re¬ 
sponses, if not held in balance with such secondary supplied 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


99 


material, are so purely technical that the expressiveness of the 
object is narrowly limited. But if the allied material of former 
experiences does not directly blend with the qualities of the poem 
or painting, they remain extraneous suggestions, not part of the 
expressiveness of the object itself. 

I have avoided the use of the word “association” because 
traditional psychology supposes that associated material and the 
immediate color or sound that evokes it remain separate from 
one another. It does not admit of the possibility of a fusion so 
complete as to incorporate both members in a single whole. This 
psychology holds that direct sensuous quality is one thing, and 
an idea or image which it calls out or suggests is another distinct 
mental item. The esthetic theory based on this psychology can* 
not admit that the suggesting and the suggested may interpene¬ 
trate and form a unity in which present sense quality confers 
vividness of realization while the material evoked supplies con¬ 
tent and depth. 

The issue that fe involved has a much greater import for 
the philosophy of esthetics than appears at first sight. The ques¬ 
tion of the relation that exists between direct sensuous matter and 
that which is incorporated with it because of prior experiences, 
goes to the heart of the expressiveness of an object. Failure to 
see that what takes place is not external “association” but is 
internal and intrinsic integration has led to two opposed and 
equally false conceptions of the nature of expression. According 
to one theory, esthetic expressiveness belongs to the direct sen¬ 
suous qualities, what is added by suggestion only rendering the 
object more interesting but not becoming a part of its esthetic 
being. The other theory takes the opposite tack, and imputes 
expressiveness wholly to associated material. 

The expressiveness of lines as mere lines is offered as 
proof that esthetic value belongs to sense qualities in and of 
themselves; their status may serve as a test of the theory. Differ¬ 
ent kinds of lines, straight and curved, and among the straight 
the horizontal and vertical, and among curves those that are 
closed and those that droop and rise, have different immediate 
esthetic qualities. Of this fact there is no doubt. But the theory 
under consideration holds that their peculiar expressiveness can 
be explained without any reference beyond the immediate sensory 



too 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


apparatus directly involved. It is held that the dry stiffness of 
a straight line is due to the fact that the eye in seeing tends to 
change direction, to move in tangents, so that it acts under 
coercion when compelled to move straight on, so that, in conse¬ 
quence, the experienced result is unpleasant. Curved lines, on the 
other hand, are agreeable because they conform to the natural 
tendencies of the eye's own movements. 

It is admitted that this factor probably does have some¬ 
thing to do with the mere pleasantness or unpleasantness of the 
experience. But the problem of expressiveness is not touched. 
While the optical apparatus may be isolated in anatomical dis¬ 
section, it never functions in isolation. It operates in connection 
with the hand in reaching for things and in exploring their sur¬ 
face, in guiding manipulation of things, in directing locomotion. 
This fact has for its consequence the other fact that the sense- 
qualities coming to us by means of the optical apparatus are 
simultaneously bound up with those that come to us from objects 
through collateral activities. The roundness seen is that of balls; 
angles perceived are the result not just of switches in the eye- 
movements but are properties of books and boxes handled; 
curves are the arch of the sky, the dome of a building; horizontal 
lines are seen as the spread of the ground, the edges of things 
around us. This factor is so continually and so unfailingly involved 
in every use of the eyes that the visually experienced qualities 
of lines cannot possibly be referred to the action of the eyes alone. 

Nature, in other words, does not present us with lines in 
isolation. As experienced, they are the lines of objects; bound¬ 
aries of things. They define the shapes by which we ordinarily 
recognize objects about us. Hence lines, even when we try to 
ignore everything else and gaze upon them in isolation, carry 
over the meaning of the objects of which they have been con¬ 
stituent parts. They are expressive of the natural scenes they 
have defined for us. While lines demarcate and define objects, 
they also assemble and connect. One who has run into a sharply 
projecting corner will appreciate the aptness of the term "acute” 
angle. Objects with widely spreading lines often have that gaping 
quality so stupid that we call it “obtuse.” That is to say, lines 
express the ways in which things act upon one another and upon 
us; the ways in which, when objects act together, they reenforce 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


101 


and interfere. For this reason, lines are wavering, upright, 
oblique, crooked, majestic; for this reason they seem in direct 
perception to have even moral expressiveness. They are earth* 
bound and aspiring; intimate and coldly aloof; enticing and 
repellent. They carry with them the properties of objects. 

The habitual properties of lines cannot be got rid of 
even in an experiment that endeavors to isolate the experience 
of lines from everything else. The properties of objects that lines 
define and of movements they relate are too deeply embedded. 
These properties are resonances of a multitude of experiences in 
which, in our concern with objects, we are not even aware of 
lines as such. Different lines and different relations of lines 
have become subconsciously charged with all the values that 
result from what they have done in our experience in our every 
contact with the world about us. The expressiveness of lines 
and space relations in painting cannot be understood upon any 
other basis. 

The other theory denies that immediate sense qualities 
have any expressiveness; it holds that sense serves merely as an 
external vehicle by which other meanings are conveyed to us. 
Vernon Lee, herself an artist of undoubted sensitiveness, has 
developed this theory most consistently, and in a way, which, 
while it has something in common with the German theory of 
Emfuehling or empathy, avoids the idea that our esthetic per¬ 
ception is a projection into objects of an internal mimicry of 
their properties, one which we dramatically enact when we look 
at them—a theory that, in turn, is hardly more than an animistic 
version of the classic theory of representation. 

According to Vernon Lee, as well as to some other theorists 
in the field of esthetics, “art” signifies a group of activities that 
are, respectively, recording, constructive, logical and communica- 
tive. There is nothing esthetic about art itself. The products of 
these arts become esthetic “in response to a totally different desire 
having its own reasons, standard, imperative.” This "totally dif¬ 
ferent” desire is the desire for shapes, and this desire arises 
because of the need for satisfaction of congruous relations among 
our modes of motor imagery. Hence direct sensuous qualities 
like those of color and tone are irrelevant. The demand for shapes 
is satisfied when our motor imagery reenacts the relations em- 



102 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


bodied in an object—as, for example, “the fan-like arrangement 
of sharply convergent lines and exquisitely phrased skyline of 
hills, picked up at intervals into sharp crests and dropping down 
merely to rush up again in long rapid concave curves.” 

Sensory qualities are said to be non-esthetic because, unlike 
the relations we actively enact, they are forced upon us and tend 
to overwhelm us. What counts is what we do, not what we receive. 
The essential thing esthetically is our own mental activity of 
starting, traveling, returning to a starting point, holding on to the 
past, carrying it along; the movement of attention backwards 
and forwards, as these acts are executed by the mechanism of 
motor imagery. The resulting relations define shape and shape is 
wholly a matter of relations. They “transform what would other¬ 
wise be meaningless juxtapositions or sequences of sensations into 
the significant entities which can be remembered and cognized 
even when their constituent sensations are completely altered, 
namely, into shapes.” The outcome is empathy in its true mean¬ 
ing. It deals not “directly with mood and emotion but with 
dynamic conditions which enter into moods and emotions and 
take their names from them.... The various and variously com¬ 
bined dramas enacted by lines and curves and angles take place 
not in the marble or pigment embodying the contemplated shapes, 
but solely in ourselves .... And since we are their only real actors, 
these empathic dramas of lines are bound to affect us, whether 
as corroborating or as thwarting our vital needs and habits.” 
(Italics not in the original text.) 

The theory is significant in the thoroughness with which 
it separates sense and relations, matter and form, the active and 
the receptive, phases of experience, and in its logical statement 
of what happens when they are separated. The recognition of 
the rfiles of relations and of activity on our part (the latter being 
physiologically mediated in all probability by our motor mecha¬ 
nisms) is welcome in contrast with theories that recognize only 
sense-qualities as they are passively received and undergone. 
But a theory that regards color in painting as esthetically irrele¬ 
vant, that holds that tones in music are merely something upon 
which esthetic relations are superimposed, hardly seems to need 
refutation. 

The two theories that have been criticized complement 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


103 


each other. But the truth of esthetic theory cannot be arrived 
at by a mechanical addition of one theory to the other. The 
expressiveness of the object of art is due to the fact that it pre¬ 
sents a thorough and complete interpenetration of the materials 
of undergoing and of action, the latter including a reorganization 
of matter brought with us from past experience. For, in the inter¬ 
penetration, the latter is material not added by way of external 
association nor yet by way of superimposition upon sense quali¬ 
ties. The expressiveness of the object is the report and cele¬ 
bration of the complete fusion of what we undergo and what our 
activity of attentive perception brings into what we receive by 
means of the senses. 

The reference to corroboration of our vital needs and 
habits deserves notice. Are these vital needs and habits purely 
formal? Can they be satisfied through relations alone, or do they 
demand to be fed by the matter of color and sound? That the 
latter is the case seems to be implicitly admitted when Vernon 
Lee goes on to say that “art so far from delivering us from the 
sense of really living, intensifies and amplifies those states of 
serenity of which we are given the sample, too rare, too small and 
too alloyed in the course of our normal practical life.” Exactly so. 
But the experiences that art intensifies and amplifies neither 
exist solely inside ourselves, nor do they consist of relations apart 
from matter. The moments when the creature is both most alive 
and most composed and concentrated are those of fullest inter¬ 
course with the environment, in which sensuous material and 
relations are most completely merged. Art would not amplify 
experience if it withdrew the self into the self nor would the 
experience that results from such retirement be expressive. 


BOTH of the theories considered separate the live creature from 
the world in which it lives; lives by interaction through a 
series of related doings and undergoings, which when they are 
schematized by psychology, are motor and sensory. The first 
theory finds in organic activity isolated from the events and scenes 
of the world a sufficient cause of the expressive nature of certain 
sensations. The other theory locates the esthetic element “solely 
in ourselves,” through enacting of motor relations in “shapes.” 



104 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


But the process of living is continuous; it possesses continuity 
because it is an everlastingly renewed process of acting upon the 
environment and being acted upon by it together with institution 
of relations between what is done and what is undergone. Hence 
experience is necessarily cumulative and its subject matter gains 
expressiveness because of cumulative continuity. The world we 
have experienced becomes an integral part of the self that acts 
and is acted upon in further experience. In their physical occur¬ 
rence, things and events experienced pass and are gone. But 
something of their meaning and value is retained as an integral 
part of the self. Through habits formed in intercourse with the 
world, we also in-habit the world. It becomes a home and the 
home is part of our every experience. 

How, then, can objects of experience avoid becoming 
expressive? Yet apathy and torpor conceal this expressiveness 
by building a shell about objects. Familiarity induces indifference, 
prejudice blinds us; conceit looks through the wrong end of 
a telescope and minimizes the significance possessed by objects 
in favor of the alleged importance of the self. Art throws off 
the covers that hide the expressiveness of experienced things; 
it quickens us from the slackness of routine and enables us to 
forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experi¬ 
encing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms. It 
intercepts every shade of expressiveness found in objects and 
orders them in a new experience of life. 

Because the objects of art are expressive, they communi¬ 
cate. I do not say that communication to others is the intent 
of an artist. But it is the consequence of his work—which indeed 
lives only in communication when it operates in the experience 
of others. If the artist desires to communicate a special message, 
he thereby tends to limit the expressiveness of his work to others 
—whether he wishes to communicate a moral lesson or a sense of 
his own cleverness. Indifference to response of the immediate 
audience is a necessary trait of all artists that have something 
new to say. But they are animated by a deep conviction that since 
they can only say what they have to say, the trouble is not with 
their work but those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, 
hear not. Communicability has nothing to do with popularity. 

I ran but think that much of what Tolstoi says about 



THE EXPRESSIVE OBJECT 


105 


immediate contagion as a test of artistic quality is false, and what he 
says about the kind of material which can alone be communicated is 
narrow. But if the time span be extended, it is true that no man 
is eloquent save when some one is moved as he listens. Those 
who are moved feel, as Tolstoi says, that what the work expresses 
is as if it were something one had oneself been longing to express. 
Meantime, the artist works to create an audience to which he 
does communicate. In the end, works of art are the only media 
of complete and unhindered communication between man and 
man that can occur in a world full of gulfs and walls that limit 
community of experience. 



CHAPTER VI 


SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


B ECAUSE objects of art are expressive, they are a language. 

Rather they are many languages. For each art has its own 
medium and that medium is especially fitted for one kind of 
communication. Each medium says something that cannot be 
uttered as well or as completely in any other tongue. The needs 
of daily life have given superior practical importance to one 
mode of communication, that of speech. This fact has unfortu¬ 
nately given rise to a popular impression that the meanings ex¬ 
pressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, and music can be 
translated into words with little if any loss. In fact, each art 
speaks an idiom that conveys what cannot be said in another 
language and yet remains the same. 

Language exists only when it is listened to as well as 
spoken. The hearer is an indispensable partner. The work of art 
is complete only as it works in the experience of others than the 
one who created it. Thus language involves what logicians call 
a triadic relation. There is the speaker, the thing said, and the 
one spoken to. The external object, the product of art, is the con¬ 
necting link between artist and audience. Even when the artist 
works in solitude all three terms are present. The work is there 
in progress, and the artist has to become vicariously the receiving 
audience. He can speak only as his work appeals to him as one 
spoken to through what he perceives. He observes and understands 
as a third person might note and interpret. Matisse is reported to 
have said: “When a painting is finished, it is like a new-born 
child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it.” 
It must be lived with as a child is lived with, if we are to grasp 
the meaning of his being. 

All language, whatever its medium, involves what is said 
and how it is said, or substance and form. The great ques¬ 
tion concerning substance and form is: Does matter come first 

106 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


107 


ready-made, and search for a discovery of form in which to em¬ 
body it come afterwards? Or is the whole creative effort of the 
artist an endeavor to form material so that it will be in actuality 
the authentic substance of a work of art? The question goes far 
and deep. The answer given it determines the issue of many other 
controverted points in esthetic criticism. Is there one esthetic 
value belonging to sense materials and another to a form that 
renders them expressive? Are all subjects fit for esthetic treatment 
or only a few which are set aside for that end by their intrinsi¬ 
cally superior character? Is “‘beauty” another name for form 
descending from without, as a transcendent essence, upon ma¬ 
terial, or is it a name for the esthetic quality that appears when¬ 
ever material is formed in a way that renders it adequately 
expressive? Is form, in its esthetic sense, something that uniquely 
marks off as esthetic from the beginning a certain realm of ob¬ 
jects, or is it the abstract name for what emerges whenever an 
experience attains complete development? 

All of these questions have been implicit in the discussions 
of the three previous chapters, and by implication have been 
answered. If an art product is taken to be one of ^/-expression 
and the self is regarded as something complete and self-con¬ 
tained in isolation, then of course substance and form fall apart. 
That in which a self-revelation is clothed, is, by the underlying 
assumption, external to the things expressed. The externality 
persists no matter which of the two is regarded as form and which 
as substance. It is also clear that if there be no self-expression, no 
free play of individuality, the product will of necessity be but an 
instance of a species; it will lack the freshness and originality 
found only in things that are individual on their own account. 
Here is a point from which the relation of form and substance 
may be approached. 

The material out of which a work of art is composed be¬ 
longs to the common world rather than to the self, and yet there 
is self-expression in art because the self assimilates that material 
in a distinctive way to reissue it into the public world in a form 
that builds a new object. This new object may have as its con¬ 
sequence similar reconstructions, recreations, of old and common 
material on the part of those who perceive it, and thus in time 
come to be established as part of the acknowledged world—as 



108 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


“universal.” The material expressed cannot be private; that is 
the state of the mad-house. But the manner of saying it is indi¬ 
vidual, and, if the product is to be a work of art, induplicable. 
Identity of mode of production defines the work of a machine, 
the esthetic counterpart of which is the academic. The quality 
of a work of art is sui generis because the manner in which general 
material is rendered transforms it into a substance that is fresh 
and vital. 

What is true of the producer is true of the perceiver. He 
may perceive academically, looking for identities with which he 
already is familiar; or learnedly, pedantically, looking for material 
to fit into a history or article he wishes to write, or sentimentally 
for illustrations of some theme emotionally dear. But if he per¬ 
ceives esthetically, he will create an experience of which the 
intrinsic subject matter, the substance, is new. An English critic, 
Mr. A. C. Bradley, has said that “poetry being poems, we are to 
think of a poem as it actually exists; and an actual poem is a 
succession of experiences—sounds, images, thought—through 
which we pass when we read a poem.... A poem exists in un- 
numberable degrees.” And it is also true that it exists in unnum- 
berable qualities or kinds, no two readers having exactly the same 
experience, according to the “forms,” or manners of response 
brought to it. A new poem is created by every one who reads 
poetically—not that its raw material is original for, after all, we 
live in the same old world, but that every individual brings with 
him, when he exercises his individuality, a way of seeing and 
feeling that in its interaction with old material creates something 
new, something previously not existing in experience. 

A work of art no matter how old and classic is actually, 
not just potentially, a work of art only when it lives in some indi¬ 
vidualized experience. As a piece of parchment, of marble, of 
canvas, it remains (subject to the ravages of time) self-identical 
throughout the ages. But as a work of art, it is recreated every 
time it is esthetically experienced. No one doubts this fact in the 
rendering of a musical score; no one supposes that the lines and 
dots on paper are more than the recorded means of evoking the 
work of art. But what is true of it is equally true of the Parthenon 
as a building. It is absurd to ask what an artist “really” meant 
by his product; he himself would find different meanings in it at 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


109 


different days and hours and in different stages of his own de¬ 
velopment. If he could be articulate, he would say “I meant just 
that , and that means whatever you or any one can honestly, that 
is in virtue of your own vital experience, get out of it.” Any other 
idea makes the boasted “universality” of the work of art a 
synonym for monotonous identity. The Parthenon, or whatever, is 
universal because it can continuously inspire new personal real¬ 
izations in experience. 

It is simply an impossibility that any one today should 
experience the Parthenon as the devout Athenian contemporary 
citizen experienced it, any more than the religious statuary of the 
twelfth century can mean, esthetically, even to a good Catholic 
today just what it meant to the worshipers of the old period. The 
“works” that fail to become new are not those which are uni¬ 
versal but those which are “dated.” The enduring art-product 
may have been, and probably was, called forth by something occa¬ 
sional, something having its own date and place. But what was 
evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experi¬ 
ences of others and enable them to have more intense and more 
fully rounded out experiences of their own. 

This is what it is to have form. It marks a way of envisag¬ 
ing, of feeling, and of presenting experienced matter so that it 
most readily and effectively becomes material for the construction 
of adequate experience on the part of those less gifted than the 
original creator. Hence there can be no distinction drawn, save in 
reflection, between form and substance. The work itself is matter 
formed into esthetic substance. The critic, the theorist, as a reflec¬ 
tive student of the art product, however, not only may but must 
draw a distinction between them. Any skilled observer of a 
pugilist or a golf-player will, I suppose, institute distinctions 
between what is done and how it is done—between the knock¬ 
out and the manner of the delivery of a blow; between the ball 
driven so many yards to such and such a line and the way the 
drive was executed. The artist, the one engaged in doing, will 
effect a similar distinction when he is interested in correcting an 
habitual error, or learning how better to secure a given effect. 
Yet the act itself is exactly what it is because of how it is done. 
In the act there is no distinction, but perfect integration of man¬ 
ner and content, form and substance. 



HO ART AS EXPERIENCE 

The author just quoted, Mr. Bradley, in an essay on Poetry 
for Poetry’s Sake, draws a distinction between subject and sub¬ 
stance which may well form the start of our further discussion 
of this matter. The distinction may, I think, be paraphrased as 
that between matter for and matter in artistic production. The 
subject or “matter for” is capable of being indicated and de¬ 
scribed in other fashion than that of the art-product itself. The 
“matter in,” the actual substance, is the art object itself and 
hence cannot be expressed in any other way. The subject for Mil¬ 
ton’s “Paradise Lost” is, as Bradley says, the fall of man in 
connection with the revolt of the angels—a theme already current 
in Christian circles and readily identifiable by any one familiar 
with the Christian tradition. The substance of the poem, the 
esthetic matter, is the poem itself; what became of the subject 
as it underwent Milton’s imaginative treatment. Similarly, one 
can tell another in words the subject of the “Ancient Mariner.” 
But to convey to him its substance one would have to expose him 
to the poem and let the latter have its way with him. 

The distinction that Bradley draws with respect to poems 
is equally applicable to every art, even architecture. The “sub¬ 
ject” of the Parthenon is Pallas Athene, the Virgin Goddess, the 
presiding divinity of the city of Athens. If one will take a multi¬ 
tude of art products of all kinds and sorts and keep them in mind 
long enough to assign a subject to each, one will see that the 
substance of works of art dealing with the same “subject” is 
infinitely varied. How many poems are there in all languages 
having flowers, or even the rose, for their “subject”? Hence 
changes in art products are not arbitrary; they do not proceed, 
even when quite revolutionary, (as one school of critics always 
assumes) from the unregulated wish of undisciplined men to 
produce something new and startling. They are inevitable as the 
common things of the world are experienced in different cultures 
and different personalities. The subject that meant so much to 
the Athenian citizen of the fourth century b.c. is hardly more 
than a historic incident today. An English Protestant of the 
seventeenth century who savored to the full the theme of Milton’s 
epic may have been so out of sympathy with the topic and setting 
of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as to be unable to appreciate the 
latter’s artistic quality. Today an “unbeliever” may be the one 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


III 


who is most sensitive estheticaUy to such poems, just because of 
indifference to their antecedent subject-matter. On the other 
hand, many an observer of pictures is now unable to do full 
justice to tiie painting of Poussin in its intrinsic plastic qualities 
because its classical themes are so alien. 

The subject, as Bradley says, is outside the poem; the 
substance is within it; rather, it is the poem. “Subject,” however, 
itself varies over a wide range. It may be hardly more than a 
label; it may be the occasion that called out the work; or it may 
be the subject-matter which as raw material entered into the new 
experience of the artist and found transformation. The poems of 
Keats and Shelley on the sky-lark and nightingale probably did 
not have the songs of these birds alone for an occasioning stimu¬ 
lus. It is well, then, for the sake of clarity to discriminate not 
only substance from theme or topic, but both of them from 
antecedent subject-matter. The “subject” of the “Ancient 
Mariner” is the killing of an albatross by a sailor and what hap¬ 
pened in consequence thereof. Its matter is the poem itself. 
Its subject-matter is all the experiences a reader brings with him 
of cruelty and pity in connection with a living creature. The artist 
himself can hardly begin with a subject alone. If he did, his 
work would almost surely suffer from artificiality. First comes 
subject-matter, then the substance or matter of the work; finally 
the determination of topic or theme. 

Antecedent subject-matter is not instantaneously changed 
into the matter of a work of art in the mind of an artist. It is a 
developing process. As we have already seen, the artist finds where 
he is going because of what he has previously done; that is, the 
original excitation and stir of some contact with the world under¬ 
go successive transformation. That state of the matter he has 
arrived at sets up demands to be fulfilled and it institutes 
a framework that limits further operations. As the experience of 
transforming subject-matter into the very substance of the work 
of art proceeds, incidents and scenes that figured at first may drop 
out and others take their place, being drawn in by the suction of 
the qualitative material that aroused the original excitement. 

The theme or subject, on the other hand, may be of no 
significance at all save for purposes of practical identification. I 
once saw a lecturer on painting obtain a cheap laugh from his 



112 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


audience by showing a cubistic picture and asking the audience 
to guess what it was about. He then told them its title—as if that 
were either its subject-matter or its substance. The artist had 
labeled his picture for some reason best known to himself, whether 
pour epater les bourgeois or because of its occasion, or because 
of some subtle affinity of quality, by the name of a historic per* 
sonage. The implication of the lecturer and of the audience’s 
laugh was that the obvious disparity between the title and the 
visible picture was somehow a reflection on the esthetic qualities 
of the latter. No one would allow his perception of the Parthenon 
to be influenced by the fact that he did not happen to know the 
signification of the word by which the building is called. Yet the 
fallacy exists, especially in connection with pictures, in many ways 
much more subtle than that illustrated by the incident of the 
lecture. 

Titles are, so to say, social matters. They identify objeett 
for easy reference, so that one knows what is meant when a 
symphony of Beethoven’s is called the “Fifth” or when Titian’s 
“Entombment” is mentioned. A poem of Wordsworth’s may be 
specified by name, but it might be identified as the poem found 
on a certain page of a given edition, as well as by being called 
“Lucy Gray.” Rembrandt’s painting can be named the “Jewish 
Wedding,” or that which hangs on a certain wall of a particular 
room in the Amsterdam gallery. Musicians usually call their works 
by number with perhaps an indication of the key. Painters prefer 
vague titles. Thus artists, perhaps unconsciously, strive to escape 
from the general tendency to link an object of art with some 
scene or course of events that listeners and spectators recog¬ 
nize from their prior experience. A picture may be cata¬ 
logued merely “River at Twilight.” Even then, many persons will 
suppose they must carry into their experience of it some remem¬ 
bered river once seen at that particular hour. But in such treat¬ 
ment the picture in so far ceases to be a picture and becomes an 
inventory or document, as if it were a colored photograph taken 
for historical or geological purposes or to serve the business of a 
detective. 

The distinctions made are elementary; but they are basic in 
esthetic theory. When there is an end of confusion of subject and 
substance, there will also be an end, for example, of the am- 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


193 


biguities regarding representation such as have been discussed. 
Mr. Bradley calls attention to the common tendency to treat a 
work of art as a mere reminder of something, by the illustration 
of the sight-seer in a picture-gallery who remarks as he moves 
along, “This picture is so like my cousin,” or that picture “the 
image of my birthplace,” and who, after satisfying himself that 
one painting is about Elijah, passes on rejoicing to discover the 
subject and nothing but the subject of the next one. Unless the 
radical difference between subject and substance is appreciated, 
not only does the casual visitor go wrong, but critics and theorists 
judge objects of art in terms of their preconceptions as to what 
the subject-matter of art ought to be. The time is not far remote 
when the proper thing to say about the dramas of Ibsen was that 
they are “sordid”; and paintings that modify subject-matter in 
accordance with requirements of esthetic form in ways that in¬ 
volve distortion of physical shape are condemned as arbitrary 
and capricious. The painter’s just retort to such a misunderstand¬ 
ing is found in a remark of Matisse. When some one complained 
to him that she had never seen a woman who looked like the one 
in his painting, he replied: “Madam, that is not a woman; that is 
a picture.” The critics who drag in extraneous subject-matter- 
historical, moral, sentimental, or in the guise of established canons 
that prescribe proper themes—may be vastly superior in learn¬ 
ing to the guide in the gallery who says nothing about paintings 
as pictures and a great deal about the occasions which produced 
them and the sentimental associations they arouse, the majesty of 
Mount Blanc or the tragedy of Anne Boleyn; but esthetically 
they stand on the same level. 

The city man who lived in the country when he was a 
boy is given to purchasing pictures of green meadows with graz¬ 
ing cattle or purling brooks—especially if there is also a swim¬ 
ming hole. He obtains from such pictures a revival of certain 
values of his childhood minus attendant back-breaking experi¬ 
ences, plus, indeed, an added emotional value because of contrast 
with a present well-to-do estate. In all such cases the picture is 
not seen. The painting is used as a spring board for arriving at 
sentiments that are, because of extraneous subject-matter, agree¬ 
able. The subject-matter of experiences of childhood and youth is 
nevertheless a subconscious background of much great art. But 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


*14 

to be the substance of art, it must be made into a new object by 
means of the medium employed, not merely suggested in a 
reminiscent way. 


THE fact that form and matter are connected in a work of 
art does not mean they are identical. It signifies that in the 
work of art they do not offer themselves as two distinct things: 
the work is formed matter. But they are legitimately distinguished 
when reflection sets in, as it does in criticism and in theory. We 
are then compelled to inquire as to the formal structure of the 
work, and in order to carry on this inquiry intelligently, we must 
have a conception of what form is generically. We may get a key 
to this idea by starting from the fact that one idiomatic use of the 
word makes it equivalent with shape or figure. Especially in con¬ 
nection with pictures is form frequently identified simply with 
the patterns defined by linear outlines of shapes. Now shape 
is only an element in esthetic form; it does not constitute it. In 
ordinary perception we recognize and identify things by their 
shapes; even words and sentences have shapes, when heard as 
well as when seen. Consider how a misplaced accent disturbs 
recognition more than does any other kind of mispronunciation. 

For shape in relation to recognition is not limited to geo¬ 
metric or spatial properties. The latter play a part only as they 
are subordinated to adaptation to an end . Shapes that are not in 
our minds associated with any function are hard to grasp and 
retain. The shapes of spoons, knives, forks, household articles, 
pieces of furniture, are means of identification because of 
their association with purpose. Up to a certain point, then, shape 
is allied with form in its artistic sense. In both there is organiza¬ 
tion of constituent parts. In some sense the typical shape of even 
a utensil and tool indicates that the meaning of the whole has 
entered into the parts to qualify them. This is the fact that has 
led some theorists, like Herbert Spencer, to identify the source 
of '‘beauty” with efficient and economical adaptation of parts to 
the function of a whole. In some cases fitness is indeed so ex¬ 
quisite as to constitute visible grace independent of the thought 
of any utility. But this special case indicates the way in which 
shape and form differ generically. For there is more to grace than 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


115 


just lack of clumsiness, in the sense in which “clumsy” means 
inefficiency of adaptation to an end. In shape as such adaptation 
is intrinsically limited to a particular end—like that of a spoon 
for carrying liquids to the mouth. The spoon that in addition has 
that esthetic form called grace bears no such limitation. 

A good deal of intellectual effort has been expended in 
trying to identify efficiency for a particular end with “beauty” 
or esthetic quality. But these attempts are bound to fail, fortunate 
as it is that in some cases the two coincide and humanly desirable 
as it is that they should always meet. For adaptation to a par¬ 
ticular end is often (always in the case of complicated affairs) 
something perceived by thought, while esthetic effect is found 
directly in sense-perception. A chair may serve the purpose of 
affording a comfortable and hygienically efficient seat, without 
serving at the same time the needs of the eye. If, on the con¬ 
trary, it blocks rather than promotes the role of vision in an 
experience, it will be ugly no matter how well adapted to use as 
a seat. There is no preestablished harmony that guarantees that 
what satisfies the need of one set of organs will fulfill that of all 
the other structures and needs that have a part in the experi¬ 
ence, so as to bring it to completion as a complex of all ele¬ 
ments. All we can say is that in die absence of disturbing contexts, 
such as production of objects for a maximum of private profit, 
a balance tends to be struck so that objects will be satisfactory— 
“useful” in the strict sense—to the self as a whole, even though 
some specific efficiency be sacrificed in the process. In so far 
there is a tendency for dynamic shape (as distinguished from 
bare geometric figure) to blend with artistic form. 

Early in the history of philosophic thought the value of 
shape in making possible the definition and classification of 
objects was noted and was seized upon as a basis for a meta¬ 
physical theory of the nature of forms. The empirical fact of the 
relationship, effected by arrangement of parts to a definite end 
and use—like that of spoon or table or cup—was wholly neglected 
and even repudiated. Form was treated as something intrinsic, 
as the very essence of a thing in virtue of the metaphysical 
structure of the universe. It is easy to follow the course of rea¬ 
soning that led to this result provided the relation of shape to use 
is once ignored. It is by form—in the sense of adapted shape— 



116 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


that we both identify and distinguish tilings in perception: chairs 
from tables, a maple from an oak. Since we note—or “know” 
them—in this way, and, since knowledge was believed to be a 
revelation of the true nature of things, it was concluded that 
things are what they are in virtue of having, intrinsically, certain 
forms. 

Moreover, since things are rendered knowable by these 
forms, it was concluded that form is the rational, the intelligible, 
element in the objects and events of the world. Then it was set 
over against “matter,” the latter being the irrational, the in¬ 
herently chaptic and fluctuating, stuff upon which form was im¬ 
pressed. It was as eternal as the latter was shifting. This 
metaphysical distinction of matter and form was embodied in 
the philosophy that ruled European thought for centuries. Be¬ 
cause of this fact it still affects the esthetic philosophy of 
form in relation to matter. It is the source of the bias in favor 
of their separation, especially when that takes the shape of assum¬ 
ing that form has a dignity and stability lacking to matter. Indeed, 
were it not for this background of tradition, it may be doubted 
whether it would occur to any one that there is a problem in their 
relation, so clear would it be that the only distinction important 
in art is that between matter inadequately formed and material 
completely and coherently formed. 

Objects of industrial arts have form—that adapted to 
their special uses. These objects take on esthetic form, whether 
they are rugs, urns, or baskets, when the material is so arranged 
and adapted that it serves immediately the enrichment of the 
immediate experience of the one whose attentive perception is 
directed to it. No material can be adapted to an end, be it that 
of use as spoon or carpet, until raw material has undergone a 
change that shapes the parts and that arranges these parts with 
reference to one another with a view to the purpose of the whole. 
Hence the object has form in a definitive sense. When this form 
is liberated from limitation to a specialized end and serves also 
the purposes of an immediate and vital experience, the form is 
esthetic and not merely useful. 

It is significant that the word “design” has a double 
meaning. It signifies purpose and it signifies arrangement, mode 
of composition. The design of a house is the plan upon which it 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


117 


is constructed to serve the purposes of those who live in it. The 
design of a painting or novel is the arrangement of its elements 
by means of which it becomes an expressive unity in direct per¬ 
ception. In both cases, there is an ordered relation of many con¬ 
stituent elements. The characteristic of artistic design is the 
intimacy of the relations that hold the parts together. In a house 
we have rooms and their arrangement with respect to one another. 
In the work of art, the relations cannot be told apart from what 
they relate except in later reflection. A work of art is poor in 
the degree in which they exist in separation, as in a novel wherein 
plot—the design—is felt to be superimposed upon incidents and 
characters instead of being their dynamic relations to one an¬ 
other. To understand the design of a complicated piece of ma¬ 
chinery we have to know the purpose the machine is intended to 
serve, and how the various parts fit in to the accomplishment of 
that purpose. Design is, as it were, superimposed upon materials 
that do not actually share in it, as privates engage in a battle 
while they have only a passive share in the general's “design" for 
the battle. 

Only when the constituent parts of a whole have the 
unique end of contributing to the consummation of a conscious 
experience, do design and shape lose superimposed character and 
become form. They cannot do this so long as they serve a special¬ 
ized purpose; while they can serve the inclusive purpose of having 
an experience only when they do not stand out by themselves but 
are fused with all other properties <?f the work of art. In dealing 
with the significance of form in painting, Dr. Barnes has brought 
out the necessity for this completeness of blending, the inter¬ 
penetration of “shape” and pattern with color, space, and light. 
Form is, as he says, “the synthesis or fusion of all plastic means 
• *. their harmonious merging.” On the other hand, pattern in its 
limited sense, or plan and design, “is merely the skeleton upon 
which plastic units... are engrafted.” * 

This interfusion of all properties of the medium is neces¬ 
sary if the object in question is to serve the whole creature in his 
unified vitality. It therefore defines the nature of form in all the 

* “The Art in Painting,” pp. 85 and 87. Chapter I of Book II should 
be consulted. Form in tire sense defined is, as is shown there, “the criterion 
of value.” 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


i 18 

arts. With respect to a specialized utility, we can characterize 
design as being related to this and that end. One chair has a 
design fitted to give comfort; another, to hygiene; a third, to regal 
splendor. Only when all means are diffused through one another 
does the whole suffuse the parts so as to constitute an experience 
that is unified through inclusion instead of by exclusion. This 
fact confirms the position of the previous chapter as regards 
the union of qualities of direct sensuous vividness with other 
expressive qualities. As long as “meaning” is a matter of associa¬ 
tion and suggestion, it falls apart from the qualities of the.sensuous 
medium and form is disturbed. Sense qualities are the carriers 
of meanings, not as vehicles carry goods but as a mother carries 
a baby when the baby is part of her own organism. Works of 
art, like words, are literally pregnant with meaning. Meanings, 
having their source in past experience, are means by which the 
particular organization that marks a given picture is effected. 
They are not added on by “association” but are either, and 
equally, the soul of which colors are the body or the body of 
which colors are the soul—according as we happen to be con¬ 
cerned with the picture. 

Dr. Barnes has pointed out that not only are intellectual 
meanings carried over from past experiences to add expressive¬ 
ness, but so are qualities that add emotional excitation, whether 
the excitation be of serenity or poignancy. “There are,” as he 
says, “in our minds in solution a vast number of emotional atti¬ 
tudes, feelings ready to be reexcited when the proper stimulus 
arrives, and more than anything else it is these forms, this residue 
of experience, which, fuller and richer than in the mind of the 
ordinary man, constitute the artist’s capital. What is called the 
magic of the artist resides in his ability to transfer these values 
from one field of experience to another, to attach them to the 
objects of our common life, and by his imaginative insight make 
these objects poignant and momentous.” * Not colors, not sense 
qualities as such, are either matter or form, but these qualities as 

♦See the chapter on Transferred Values, in the volume on “The Art 
ef Henri Matisse”; the quotation is from p. 31. In the chapter, Dr. Barnes 
shows how much of the immediate emotional effect of the pictures of Matisse 
is unconsciously transferred from emotional values first connected with 
tapestry, posters, rosettes (including flower-patterns), tiles, stripes and bands, 
as of banners and many other objects. 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


119 


thoroughly imbued, impregnated, with transferred value. And 
then they are either matter or form according to the direction of 
Qur interest. 

While some theorists make a distinction between sensu¬ 
ous and borrowed value because of the metaphysical dualism just 
mentioned, others make it from fear lest the work of art be unduly 
intellectualized. They are concerned to emphasize something 
which is in fact an esthetic necessity: the immediacy of esthetic 
experience. It cannot be asserted too strongly that what is not 
immediate is not esthetic. The mistake lies in supposing that only 
certain special things—those attached just to eye, ear, etc.—can 
be qualitatively and immediately experienced. Were it true that 
only qualities coming to us through sense-organs in isolation are 
directly experienced, then, of course, all relational material would 
be superadded by an association that is extraneous—or, according 
to some theorists, by a “synthetic” action of thought. From this 
point of view the strictly esthetic value of say a painting consists 
simply of certain relations and orders of relation that colors 
sustain to one another apart from relation to objects. The expres¬ 
siveness they gain by being present as colors of water, rocks, 
clouds, etc., is due to art. On this basis, there is always a gap 
between the esthetic and the artistic. They are of two radically 
different kinds. 

The psychology underlying this bifurcation was exploded 
in advance by William James when he pointed out that there are 
direct feelings of such relations as “if,” “then,” “and,” “but,” 
“from,” “with.” For he showed that there is no relation so com¬ 
prehensive that it may not become a matter of immediate experi¬ 
ence. Every work of art that ever existed had indeed already 
contradicted the theory in question. It is quite true that certain 
things, namely ideas, exercise a mediating function. But only a 
twisted and aborted logic can hold that because something is 
mediated, it cannot, therefore, be immediately experienced. The 
reverse is the case. We cannot grasp any idea, any organ of 
mediation, we cannot possess it in its full force, until we have 
felt and sensed it, as much so as if it were an odor or a color. 

Those who are especially addicted to thinking as an occu¬ 
pation, are aware when they observe the processes of thought, 
instead of determining by dialectic what they must be, that im- 



120 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

mediate feeling is not limited in its scope. Different ideas have 
their different “feels,” their immediate qualitative aspects, just 
as much as anything else. One who is thinking his way through 
a complicated problem finds direction on his way by means of 
this property of ideas. Their qualities stop him when he enters the 
wrong path and send him ahead when he hits the right one. They 
are signs of an intellectual “Stop and Go.” If a thinker had to 
work out the meaning of each idea discursively, he would be lost 
in a labyrinth that had no end and no center. Whenever an idea 
loses its immediate felt quality, it ceases to be an idea and be¬ 
comes, like an algebraic symbol, a mere stimulus to execute an 
operation without the need of thinking. For this reason certain 
trains of ideas leading to their appropriate consummation (or 
conclusion) are beautiful or elegant. They have esthetic character. 
In reflection it is often necessary to make a distinction between 
matters of sense and matters of thought. But the distinction does 
not exist in all modes of experience. When there is genuine artistry 
in scientific inquiry and philosophic speculation, a thinker pro¬ 
ceeds neither by rule nor yet blindly, but by means of meanings 
that exist immediately as feelings having qualitative color.* 
Qualities of sense, those of touch and taste as well as 
of sight and hearing, have esthetic quality. But they have it 
not in isolation but in their connections; as interacting, not as 
simple and separate entities. Nor are connections limited to their 
own kind, colors with colors, sounds with sounds. Even the utmost 
in the way of scientific control never succeeds in getting either 
a “pure” color or a pure spectrum of colors. A ray of light pro¬ 
duced under scientific control does not end sharply and with 
uniformity. It has vague edges and so internal complexity. More* 
over, it is projected on a background and only thus does it enter 
perception. And the background is not merely one of other hues 
and shades. It has its own qualities. No shadow cast by even the 
thinnest line is ever homogeneous. It is impossible to isolate a 
color from light so that no refraction occurs. Even under the most 
uniform laboratory conditions, a “simple” color will be complex 

♦In connection with this matter, which bears not only on this par¬ 
ticular topic, but on all questions connected with the intelligence that is 
characteristic of any artist, I refer to the essay on Qualitative Thought, 
contained in the volume “Philosophy and Civilization.” 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


121 


to the extent of having a bluish edge. And the colors used in 
paintings are not pure spectral colors but are pigments, not pro¬ 
jected on the void but applied on a canvas. 

These elementary observations, are made with reference 
to attempts to carry over alleged scientific findings about sense 
material into esthetics. They show that even on so-called scien¬ 
tific ground there are no experiences of “pure” or “simple” quali¬ 
ties, nor of qualities limited to the range of a single sense. But 
in any case there is an unbridgeable gap between science in the 
laboratory and the work of art. In a painting, colors are presented 
as those of sky, cloud, river, rock, turf, jewel, silk, and so on. 
Even the eye that is artificially trained to see color as color, apart 
from things that colors qualify, cannot shut out the resonances 
and transfers of value due to these objects. Of color qualities it 
is peculiarly true that they are in perception what they are in 
relations of contrast and harmony with other qualities. Those who 
measure a picture by its linear draughtsmanship have attacked 
colorists on this very ground, pointing out that in contrast with 
the stable constancy of line, color is never twice alike, varying 
with every change of light and other conditions. 

In contrast with the attempt to carry over misplaced ab¬ 
stractions of anatomy and psychology into esthetic theory, we 
may well listen to painters. For example, Cezanne says: “Design 
and color are not distinct. In the degree in which color is really 
painted , design exists. The more colors harmonize with one an¬ 
other, the more defined is design. When color is at its richest, 
form is most complete. The secret of design, of everything marked 
by pattern, is contrast and relation of tones,” He quotes with 
approval the saying of another painter, Delacroix: “Give me the 
mud of the streets and if you will leave me also with power to 
surround it to my taste I will make of it a woman’s flesh of 
delicious tint.” The opposition of quality as immediate and sensu¬ 
ous to relation as purely mediate and intellectual is false in gen¬ 
eral theory, psychological and philosophical. In fine art it is 
absurd, since the force of an art product depends upon complete 
interpenetration of the two. 

The action of any one sense includes attitudes and dispo¬ 
sitions that are due to the whole organism. The energies belonging 
to the sense-organs themselves enter causally into the perceived 



122 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


thing. When some painters introduced the “pointillist” technique, 
relying upon the capacity of the visual apparatus to fuse dots 
of color physically separate on the canvas, they exemplified but 
they did not originate an organic activity that transforms physical 
existence into a perceived object. But this sort of modification 
is elementary. It is not just the visual apparatus but the whole 
organism that interacts with the environment in all but routine 
action. The eye, ear, or whatever, is only the channel through 
which the total response takes place. A color as seen is always 
qualified by implicit reactions of many organs, those of the sym¬ 
pathetic system as well as of touch. It is a funnel for the total 
energy put forth, not its well-spring. Colors are sumptuous and 
rich just because a total organic resonance is deeply implicated 
in them. 

Even more important is the fact that the organism which 
responds in production of the experienced object is one whose 
tendencies of observation, desire and emotion, are shaped by prior 
experiences. It carries past experiences in itself not by conscious 
memory but by direct charge. This fact accounts for the existence 
of some degree of expressiveness in the object of every conscious 
experience. That fact has already been brought out. What is perti¬ 
nent to the topic of esthetic substance turns upon the way in 
which the material of past experience, which loads present atti¬ 
tudes, operates in connection with material provided by means 
of the senses. In sheer recollection, for example, it is essential 
to keep the two apart; otherwise remembering is distorted. In 
purely acquired automatic action, past material is subordinated 
to the extent of not appearing at all in consciousness. In other 
cases, material of the past comes to consciousness but is con¬ 
sciously employed as an instrument to deal with some present 
problem and difficulty. It is kept down so as to serve some special 
end. If the experience is predominatingly one of investigation, it 
has the status of offering evidence or of suggesting hypotheses; 
if “practical,” of furnishing cues to present action. 

In esthetic experience, on the contrary, the material of 
the past neither fills attention, as in recollection, nor is subordi¬ 
nated to a special purpose. There is, indeed, a restriction imposed 
upon what comes. But it is that of contribution to the immediate 
matter of an experience now had. The material is not employed 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


123 


as a bridge to some further experience, but as an increase and 
individualization of present experience. The scope of a work 
of art is measured by the number and variety of elements coming 
from past experiences that are organically absorbed into the 
perception had here and now. They give it its body and its 
suggestiveness. They often come from sources too obscure to 
be identified in any conscious memorial way, and thus they 
create the aura and penumbra in which a work of art 
swims. 

We see a painting through the eyes, and hear music 
through the ears. Upon reflection, we are then only too much 
given to supposing that in the experience itself visual or audi¬ 
tory qualities as such, are central if not exclusive. This carry, 
ing into the primary experience as part of its immediate nature 
whatever subsequent analysis finds in it, is a fallacy—one which 
James called the psychological fallacy. In seeing a picture, 
it is not true that visual qualities are as such, or consciously, 
central, and other qualities arranged about them in an accessory 
or associated fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
It is no more true of seeing a picture than it is of reading a poem 
or a treatise on philosophy, in which we are not aware in any 
distinct way of the visual forms of letters and words. These are 
stimuli to which we respond with emotional, imaginative, and 
intellectual values drawn from ourselves, which then are ordered 
by interaction with those presented through the medium of 
words. The colors seen in a picture are referred to objects, not 
to the eye. For this reason alone are they emotionally qualified, 
up to the point sometimes of hypnotic force, and are significant or 
expressive. The organ that investigation, using anatomical and 
physiological lore to help it out, shows to be causally primary in 
conditioning the experience, may in the experience itself be as un¬ 
obtrusive as are the brain tracts that are involved just as much as 
the eye is, but which only the trained neurologist knows anything 
about—and which even he is not aware of when he is absorbed 
in seeing something. When we perceive, by means of the eyes as 
causal aids, the liquidity of water, the coldness of ice, the solidity 
of rocks, the bareness of trees in winter, it is certain that other 
qualities than those of the eye are conspicuous and controlling 
in perception. And it is as certain as anything can be that optical 



124 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


qualities do not stand out by themselves with tactual and emotive 
qualities clinging to their skirts. 

The point just made is not one of remote technical theory. 
It bears directly upon our main problem, the relation of substance 
and form. This bearing has many aspects. One of them is the 
inherent tendency of sense to expand, to come into intimate 
relations with other things than itself, and thus to take on form 
because of its own movement—instead of passively waiting to 
have form imposed on it. Any sensuous quality tends, because 
of its organic connections, to spread and fuse. When a sense 
quality remains on the relatively isolated plane on which it first 
emerges, it does so because of some special reaction, because it 
is cultivated for special reasons. It ceases to be sensuous and 
becomes sensual. This isolation of sense is not characteristic of 
esthetic objects, but of such things as narcotics, sexual orgasms, 
and gambling indulged in for the sake of the immediate excite¬ 
ment of sensation. In normal experience, a sensory quality is 
related to other qualities in such ways as to define an object. 
The organ of reception, which is focal, adds energy and freshness 
to meanings otherwise merely reminiscent, stale, or abstract. No 
poet is more directly sensuous than Keats. But no one has written 
poetry in which sensuous qualities are more intimately pervaded 
by objective events and scenes. Milton was seemingly inspired 
by what to most persons today is a dry and repellent theology. 
But he was sufficiently in the Shakespearean tradition so that his 
substance is that of direct drama composed on a majestic scale. 
If we hear a rich and haunting voice, we feel it immediately as 
the voice of a certain kind of personality. If we discover later 
that the person is, in fact, of a meager and thin nature, we feel 
as if we had been cheated. So we are always esthetically disap¬ 
pointed when the sensuous qualities and the intellectual properties 
of an object of art do not coalesce. 

The moot problem of the relation of the decorative and 
the expressive is solved when it is viewed in the context of the 
integration of matter and form. The expressive inclines to the 
ride of meaning, the decorative to that of sense. There is a hunger 
of the eyes for light and color; there is distinctive satisfaction 
when this hunger is fed. Wall-paper, rugs, tapestries, the mar¬ 
velous play of changing tints in sky and flowers, fulfill the need. 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


125 


Arabesques, gay colors, have a like office in paintings. Some of 
the charm of architectural structures—for they have charm as 
well as dignity—derives from the fact that, in their exquisite 
adaptations of lines and spaces, they meet a similar organic need 
of the sensori-motor system. 

Yet in all this, there is no isolated operation of par¬ 
ticular senses. The conclusion to be drawn is that the distinc¬ 
tively decorative quality is due to unusual energy of a sensory 
tract that lends vividness and appeal to the other activities 
with which it is associated. Hudson was a person of extraordi¬ 
nary sensitiveness to the sensuous surface of the world. Speaking 
of his childhood when he was, as he says, “just a little wild animal 
running around on its hind legs, amazingly interested in the world 
in which it found itself,” he goes on to say: “I rejoiced in colors, 
scents, in taste and touch: the blue of the sky, the verdure of 
earth, the sparkle of light on water, the taste of milk, of fruit, 
of honey, the smell of dry or moist soil, of wind and rain, of 
herbs and flowers; the mere feel of a blade of grass made me 
happy; and there were certain sounds and perfumes, and above 
all certain colors in flowers, and in the plumage and eggs of birds, 
such as the purple polished shell of the tinamou’s egg, which 
intoxicated me with delight. When riding on the plain I discovered 
a patch of scarlet verbenas in full bloom, the creeping plants 
covering an area of several yards, with a moist greensward 
sprinkled abundantly with the shining flower bosses, I would 
throw myself from the pony with a cry of joy to lie on the turf 
among them and feast my sight on their brilliant color” 

No one can complain of a lack of recognition of immediate 
sensuous effect in such an experience. It is the more note¬ 
worthy because not affecting that superior attitude toward quali¬ 
ties of smell, taste, and touch adopted by some writers since 
Kant. But it will be noted that “colors, scents, taste and touch” 
are not isolated. The enjoyment is of the color, feel, and scent of 
objects: blades of grass, sky, sunlight and water, birds. The sight, 
smell, and touch immediately appealed to are means through which 
the boy’s entire being reveled in acute perception of the qualities 
of the world in which he lived—qualities of things experienced not 
of sensation. The active agency of a particular sense-organ is 
involved in the production of the quality, but the organ is not foi 



126 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


this reason the focus of the conscious experience. The connection 
of qualities with objects is intrinsic in all experience having signifi¬ 
cance. Eliminate this connection and nothing remains but a sense¬ 
less and unidentifiable succession of transitory thrills. When we 
have “pure” sensational experiences they come to us in moments of 
abrupt and coerced attention; they are shocks, and even shocks 
serve normally to incite curiosity to inquire into the nature of the 
situation that has suddenly interrupted our previous occupation. 
If the condition persists unchanged without ability to sink what is 
felt into a property of the object, the result is sheer exasperation 
—a thing far removed from esthetic enjoyment. To make the 
pathology of sensation the basis of esthetic enjoyment is not a 
promising undertaking. 

Translate the enjoyment of the verbena creeping over the 
grass, sunlight sparkling on water, the shining polish of the bird’s 
egg, into experiences of the live creature, and what we find is the 
very opposite of a single sense functioning alone, or of a number of 
senses merely adding their separate qualities together. The latter 
are coordinated into a whole of vitality by their common relations 
to objects. It is the objects that live an impassioned life. Art, 
like that of Hudson himself in recreating the experience of child¬ 
hood, but carries further, through selection and concentration, 
the reference to an object, to organization and order beyond 
mere sense, implicit in the experience of the child. The native 
experience in its continuous and cumulative character (properties 
that exist because “sensations” are of objects ordered in a common 
world and are not mere transient excitations), thus affords a 
frame of reference for the work of art. If the theory that primary 
esthetic experience is of isolated sense qualities were correct, it 
would be impossible for art to superimpose connection and order 
upon them. 

The situation just described gives the key to understand¬ 
ing the relation in a work of art between decorative and ex¬ 
pressive. Were enjoyment simply of qualities by themselves, 
the decorative and the expressive would have no connection with 
each other, one coming from immediate sense experience and the 
other from relations and meanings introduced by art. Since sense 
itself blends with relations, the difference between the decorative 
and the expressive is one of emphasis. Joie de vivre —the abandon 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


127 


that takes no thought for the morrow, the sumptuousness of 
fabrics, the gayety of flowers, the matured richness of fruits—is 
expressed through the decorative quality that springs directly out 
of the full play of sensuous qualities. If the range of expression 
in the arts is to be comprehensive, there are objects with values 
that must be rendered decoratively and others that must be 
rendered without it. A gay Pierrot at a funeral would clash with 
the others. When a court fool is introduced in a picture of the 
obsequies of his lord, his semblance must at least fit the require¬ 
ments of the context. An excess of decorative quality in a par¬ 
ticular setting has an expressiveness of its own—as Goya carries 
its exaggeration in some portraits of the court folk of his day 
to a point where their pomposity is made ridiculous. To demand 
that all art be decorative is as much a limitation of the material 
of art in its exclusion of expression of the somber as is a Puritanic 
demand that all art be grave. 

The special bearing of the expressiveness of decoration on 
the problem of substance and form is that it proves the wrongness 
of the theories that isolate sense qualities. For in the degree in 
which decorative effect is achieved by isolation, it becomes empty 
embellishment, factitious ornamentation—like sugar figures on 
a cake—and external bedecking. There is no need for me to go 
out of my way to condemn the insincerity of using adornment 
to conceal weakness and cover up structural defects. But it is 
necessary to note that upon the basis of esthetic theories which 
separate sense and meaning, there is no artistic ground for such 
condemnation. Insincerity in art has an esthetic not just a moral 
source; it is found wherever substance and form fall apart. This 
statement does not signify that all structurally necessary elements 
should be evident to perception, as some extreme “functionalists” 
in architecture have insisted they should be. Such a contention 
confuses a rather bald conception of morals with art.* For, in 
architecture as in painting and poetry, raw materials are re¬ 
ordered through interaction with the self to make experience 
delightful. 

Flowers in a room add to its expressiveness, when they 
harmonize with its furnishing and use without adding a note of 

* Geoffrey Scott in his “Architecture of Humanism” has well exposed 
and explained this fallacy. 



128 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


insincerity—even though they cover up something structurally 
necessary. 

The truth of the matter is that what is form in one con- 
nection is matter in another and vice-versa. Color that is matter 
with respect to expressiveness of some qualities and values is 
form when it is used to convey delicacy, brilliance, gayety. And 
this statement does not signify that some colors have one function 
and other colors another function. Take, for example, Velasquez’s 
painting of the child Maria Theresa, the one with a vase of 
flowers at her right. Its grace and delicacy is unsurpassable; the 
delicacy pervades every aspect and part—dress, jewels, face, hair, 
hands, flowers; but exactly the same colors express not only the 
stuff of fabrics, but as always with Velasquez when he succeeds, 
the inherent dignity of a human being, a dignity that even in a 
royal personage is so intrinsic that it is not a trapping of royalty. 

It does not follow, of course, that all works of art, even 
those of the highest quality, must possess such a complete inter¬ 
penetration of the decorative and the expressive as is often ex¬ 
hibited in Titian, Velasquez and Renoir. Artists may be great in 
one direction or the other, and still be great. French painting, 
almost from its beginning, has been marked by a lively sense of 
the decorative. Lancret, Fragonard, Watteau may be delicate to 
the point at times of fragility, but they almost never exhibit the 
split between expressiveness and extraneous ornamentation that 
almost always marks Boucher. They prefer subjects that require 
delicacy and intimate subtlety to render them fully expressive. 
Renoir has more of the substance of common life in his paintings 
than they. But he uses every plastic means—color, light, line, and 
planes, in themselves and in their interrelations—to convey a 
sense of abounding joy in intercourse with common things. Friends 
who knew the models he used, sometimes complained, according to 
report, that he made them much more beautiful than they really 
were. But no one who looks at the paintings gets any sense of 
their being “fixed up” or prettified. What is expressed is the 
experience Renoir himself had of the joy of perceiving the world. 
Matisse is unrivaled among the decorative colorists of the present. 
At first he may give to the beholder a shock because of juxtapo¬ 
sition of colors that in themselves are garish and because at first 
physical blanks seem to be unesthetic. But when one has learned 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


125 


Arabesques, gay colors, have a like office in paintings. Some of 
the charm of architectural structures—for they have charm as 
well as dignity—derives from the fact that, in their exquisite 
adaptations of lines and spaces, they meet a similar organic need 
of the sensori-motor system. 

Yet in all this, there is no isolated operation of par¬ 
ticular senses. The conclusion to be drawn is that the distinc¬ 
tively decorative quality is due to unusual energy of a sensory 
tract that lends vividness and appeal to the other activities 
with which it is associated. Hudson was a person of extraordi¬ 
nary sensitiveness to the sensuous surface of the world. Speaking 
of his childhood when he was, as he says, “just a little wild animal 
running around on its hind legs, amazingly interested in the world 
in which it found itself,” he goes on to say: "I rejoiced in colors, 
scents, in taste and touch: the blue of the sky, the verdure of 
earth, the sparkle of light on water, the taste of milk, of fruit, 
of honey, the smell of dry or moist soil, of wind and rain, of 
herbs and flowers; the mere feel of a blade of grass made me 
happy; and there were certain sounds and perfumes, and above 
all certain colors in flowers, and in the plumage and eggs of birds, 
such as the purple polished shell of the tinamou’s egg, which 
intoxicated me with delight. When riding on the plain I discovered 
a patch of scarlet verbenas in full bloom, the creeping plants 
covering an area of several yards, with a moist greensward 
sprinkled abundantly with the shining flower bosses, I would 
throw myself from the pony with a cry of joy to lie on the turf 
among them and feast my sight on their brilliant color.” 

No one can complain of a lack of recognition of immediate 
sensuous effect in such an experience. It is the more note¬ 
worthy because not affecting that superior attitude toward quali¬ 
ties of smell, taste, and touch adopted by some writers since 
Kant. But it will be noted that “colors, scents, taste and touch” 
are not isolated. The enjoyment is of the color, feel, and scent of 
objects: blades of grass, sky, sunlight and water, birds. The sight, 
smell, and touch immediately appealed to are means through which 
the boy's entire being reveled in acute perception of the qualities 
of the world in which he lived—qualities of things experienced not 
of sensation. The active agency of a particular sense-organ is 
involved in the production of the quality, but the organ is not fot 



128 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


insincerity—even though they cover up something structurally 
necessary. 

The truth of the matter is that what is form in one con¬ 
nection is matter in another and vice-versa. Color that Is matter 
with respect to expressiveness of some qualities and values is 
form when it is used to convey delicacy, brilliance, gayety. And 
this statement does not signify that some colors have one function 
and other colors another function. Take, for example, Velasquez’s 
painting of the child Maria Theresa, the one with a vase of 
flowers at her right. Its grace and delicacy is unsurpassable; the 
delicacy pervades every aspect and part—dress, jewels, face, hair, 
hands, flowers; but exactly the same colors express not only the 
stuff of fabrics, but as always with Velasquez when he succeeds, 
the inherent dignity of a human being, a dignity that even in a 
royal personage is so intrinsic that it is not a trapping of royalty. 

It does not follow, of course, that all works of art, even 
those of the highest quality, must possess such a complete inter¬ 
penetration of the decorative and the expressive as is often ex¬ 
hibited in Titian, Velasquez and Renoir. Artists may be great in 
one direction or the other, and still be great. French painting, 
almost from its beginning, has been marked by a lively sense of 
the decorative. Lancret, Fragonard, Watteau may be delicate to 
the point at times of fragility, but they almost never exhibit the 
split between expressiveness and extraneous ornamentation that 
almost always marks Boucher. They prefer subjects that require 
delicacy and intimate subtlety to render them fully expressive. 
Renoir has more of the substance of common life in his paintings 
than they. But he uses every plastic means—color, light, line, and 
planes, in themselves and in their interrelations—to convey a 
sense of abounding joy in intercourse with common things. Friends 
who knew the models he used, sometimes complained, according to 
report, that he made them much more beautiful than they really 
were. But no one who looks at the paintings gets any sense of 
their being “fixed up” or prettified. What is expressed is the 
experience Renoir himself had of the joy of perceiving the world. 
Matisse is unrivaled among the decorative colorists of the present 
At first he may give to the beholder a shock because of juxtapo- 
tition of colors that in themselves are garish and because at first 
physical blanks seem to be unesthetic. But when one has learned 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 


129 


to see, one finds a marvelous rendering of a quality that is char¬ 
acteristically French—clearness, clartL If the attempt to express 
it does not succeed—and, of course, it does not always—then the 
decorative quality stands out by itself and is oppressive—like too 
much sugar. 

Hence, one important faculty in learning to perceive a 
work of art—a faculty that many critics do not possess—is power 
to grasp the phases of objects that specially interest a particu¬ 
lar artist. Still-life painting would be as empty as is most 
genre painting if it did not, under the hand of a master, become 
expressive through its very decorative quality of significant 
structural factors, as Chardin renders volume and spadal posi¬ 
tions in ways that caress the eye; while Cezanne achieves monu¬ 
mental quality with fruits, just as, on the opposite side, Guardi 
suffuses the monumental in buildings with a decorative glow. 

As objects are transported from one culture-medium to 
another, decorative quality takes on a new value. Rugs and bowls 
of the Orient have patterns whose original value was usually 
religious or political—as tribal emblems—expressed in decorative 
semi-geometrical figures. The western observer does not get the 
former any more than he grasps the religious expressiveness in 
Chinese paintings of original Buddhist and Taoist connections. 
The plastic elements remain and sometimes give a false sense of 
the separation of decorative from expressive. Local elements 
were a kind of medium by which entrance fee was paid. The 
intrinsic value remains after local elements have been stripped 
away. 

Beauty, conventionally assumed to be the especial theme 
of esthetics, has hardly been mentioned in what precedes. It is 
properly an emotional term, though one denoting a characteristic 
emotion. In the presence of a landscape, a poem or a picture that 
lays hold of us with immediate poignancy, we are moved to 
murmur or to exclaim “How beautiful.” The ejaculation is a just 
tribute to the capacity of the object to arouse admiration that 
approaches worship. Beauty is at the furthest remove from an 
analytic term, and hence from a conception that can figure in 
theory as a means of explanation or classification. Unfortunately, 
it has been hardened into a peculiar object; emotional rapture 
has been subjected to what philosophy calls hypostatization, and 



130 ART AS EXPERIENCE 

the concept of beauty as an essence of intuition has resulted. For 
purposes of theory, it then becomes an obstructive term. In case 
the term is used in theory to designate the total esthetic quality 
of an experience, it is surely better to deal with the experience 
itself and show whence and how the quality proceeds. In that 
case, beauty is the response to that which to reflection is the 
consummated movement of matter integrated through its inner 
relations into a single qualitative whole. 

There is another and more limited use of the term in which 
beauty is set off against other modes of esthetic quality—against 
the sublime, the comic, grotesque. Judging from results, the dis¬ 
tinction is not a happy one. It tends to involve those who engage 
in it in dialectical manipulation of concepts and a compartmental 
pigeon-holing that obstructs rather than aids direct perception. 
Instead of favoring surrender to the object, ready-made divisions 
lead one to approach an esthetic object with an intent to compare 
and thus to restrict the experience to a partial grasp of the unified 
whole. An examination of the cases in which the word is com¬ 
monly used, apart from its immediate emotional sense mentioned 
above, reveals that one significance of the term is the striking 
presence of decorative quality, of immediate charm for sense. The 
other meaning indicates the marked presence of relations of fit¬ 
ness and reciprocal adaptation among the members of the whole, 
whether it be object, situation, or deed. 

Demonstrations in mathematics, operations in surgery, are 
thus said to be beautiful—even a case of disease may be so typical 
in its exhibition of characteristic relations as to be called beauti¬ 
ful. Both meanings, that of sensuous charm and of manifestation 
of a harmonious proportion of parts, mark the human form in its 
best exemplars. The efforts that have been made by theorists to 
reduce one meaning to the other illustrate the futility of approach¬ 
ing the subject-matter through fixed concepts. The facts throw 
light upon the immediate fusion of form and matter, and upon 
the relativity of what is taken as form or as substance in a 
particular case to the purpose animating reflective analysis. 

The sum of the whole discussion is that theories which 
separate matter and form, theories that strive to find a special 
locus in experience for each, are, in spite of their oppositions to 
one another, cases of the same fundamental fallacy. They rest 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 131 

upon separation of the live creature from the environment in 
which it lives. One school, one which becomes the “idealistic” 
school in philosophy when its implications are formulated, makes 
the separation in the interest of meanings or relations. The other 
school, the sensational-empiricist, makes the separation in behalf 
of the primacy of sense qualities. Esthetic experience has not 
been trusted to generate its own concepts for interpretation of 
art. These have been superimposed through being carried over, 
ready-made, from systems of thought framed without reference 
to art. 

Nowhere has the result been more disastrous than with 
respect to the problem of matter and form. It would have been 
easy to fill the pages of this chapter with quotations from writers 
on esthetics asserting an original dualism of matter and form. I 
shall quote only one instance: “We call the facade of a Greek 
temple beautiful with special reference to its admirable form; 
whereas, in predicating beauty of a Norman castle, we refer rather 
to what the castle means—to the effect of imagination of its 
past proud strength and slow vanquishment by die unrelenting 
strokes of time.” 

This particular writer refers “form” directly to sense, and 
matter or “substance” to associated meaning. It would be just as 
easy to reverse the process. Ruins are picturesque; that is, their 
immediate pattern and color with overgrowing ivy, make a decora¬ 
tive appeal to sense; while, it might be argued, the effect of 
the Greek facade is due to a perception of relations of propor¬ 
tion, etc., which involve rational rather than sensuous considera¬ 
tions. Indeed, at first view, it seems more natural to ascribe matter 
to sense and form to mediating thought than vice versa. The fact 
is that distinctions in both directions are equally arbitrary. What 
is form in one context is matter in another and vice versa. More¬ 
over, they change places in the same work of art with a shift in 
our interest and attention. Take the following stanzas of “Lucy 
Gray”: 


“Yet some maintain that to this day 
She is a living child; 

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray 
Upon the lonesome wild . 



132 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


"O’er rough and smooth she trips along 
And never looks behind; 

And sings a solitary song 
That whistles in the wind.” 

Did anybody who felt the poem esthetically make—at the 
same time—a conscious distinction of sense and thought, of mat¬ 
ter and form? If $o, they did not read or hear esthetically, for 
the esthetic value of the stanzas lies in the integration of the two. 
Nevertheless, after an absorbed enjoyment of the poem, one may 
reflect and analyze. One may consider how the choice of words, 
the meter and rhyme, the movement of the phrases, contribute to 
the esthetic effect. Not only this, but such an analysis, performed 
with reference to a more definite apprehension of form, may 
enrich further direct experience. Upon another occasion, these 
same traits taken in connection with the development of Words¬ 
worth, his experience and theories, may be treated as matter 
rather than as form. Then the episode, the “story of the child 
faithful unto death” serves as a form in which Wordsworth 
embodied the material of his personal experience. 

Since the ultimate cause of the union of form and matter 
in experience is the intimate relation of undergoing and doing in 
interaction of a live creature with the world of nature and man, 
the theories, which separate matter and form, have their ultimate 
source in neglect of this relation. Qualities are then treated as im¬ 
pressions made by things, and relations that supply meaning as 
either associations among impressions, or as something introduced 
by thought. There are enemies of the union of form and matter. 
But they proceed from our own limitations; they are not intrinsic. 
They spring from apathy, conceit, self-pity, tepidity, fear, conven¬ 
tion, routine, from the factors that obstruct, deflect and prevent 
vital interaction of the life creature with the environment in which 
he exists. Only the being who is ordinarily apathetic finds merely 
transient excitement in a work of art; only one who is depressed, 
unable to face the situations about him, goes to it merely for me¬ 
dicinal solace through values he cannot find in his world. But art 
itself is more than a stir of energy in the doldrums of the 
dispirited, or a calm in the storms of the troubled. 

Through art, meanings of objects that are otherwise dumb, 



SUBSTANCE AND FORM 133 

inchoate, restricted, and resisted are clarified and concentrated, 
and not by thought working laboriously upon them, nor by escape 
into a world of mere sense, but by creation of a new experience. 
Sometimes the expansion and intensification is effected by 
means of 

",.. some philosophic song 
Of Truth that cherishes our daily life”; 

sometimes it is brought about by a journey to far places, & ven¬ 
ture to 


(t casements opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn” 

But whatever path the work of art pursues, it, just because it is a 
full and intense experience, keeps alive the power to experience 
the common world in its fullness. It does so by reducing the raw 
materials of that experience to matter ordered through form. 



CHAPTER VII 


THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


F ORM as something that organizes material into the matter 
of art has been considered in the previous chapter. The defini¬ 
tion that was given tells what form is when it is achieved, when it 
is there in a work of art. It does not tell how it comes to be, the 
conditions of its generation. Form was defined in terms of rela¬ 
tions and esthetic form in terms of completeness of relations 
within a chosen medium. But “relation” is an ambiguous word. 
In philosophic discourse it is used to designate a connection insti¬ 
tuted in thought. It then signifies something indirect, something 
purely intellectual, even logical. But “relation” in its idiomatic 
usage denotes something direct and active, something dynamic 
and energetic. It fixes attention upon the way things bear upon 
one another, their clashes and unitings, the way they fulfill and 
frustrate, promote and retard, excite and inhibit one another. 

Intellectual relations subsist in propositions; they state 
the connection of terms with one another. In art, as in nature and 
in life, relations are modes of interaction. They are pushes and 
pulls; they are contractions and expansions; they determine 
lightness and weight, rising and falling, harmony and discord. 
The relations of friendship, of husband and wife, of parent and 
child, of citizen and nation, like those of body to body in gravita¬ 
tion and chemical action, may be symbolized by terms or concep¬ 
tions and then be stated in propositions. But they exist as actions 
and reactions in which things are modified. Art expresses, it does 
not state; it is concerned with existences in their perceived quali¬ 
ties, not with conceptions symbolized in terms. A social relation 
is an affair of affections and obligations, of intercourse, of genera¬ 
tion, influence and mutual modification. It is in this sense that 
“relation” is to be understood when used to define form in art. 

Mutual adaptation ef parts to one another in constituting 
a whole is the relation which, formally speaking, characterizes 

134 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


I3S 


a work of art. Every machine, every utensil, has, within limits, 
a similar reciprocal adaptation. In each case, an end is fulfilled. 
That which is merely a utility satisfies, however, a particular and 
limited end. The work of esthetic art satisfies many ends, none of 
which is laid down in advance. It serves life rather than prescrib¬ 
ing a defined and limited mode of living. This service would be 
impossible were not parts bound together in the esthetic object 
in distinctive ways. How is it that each part is a dynamic part, 
that is, plays an active part , in constituting this kind of a whole? 
This is the question which confronts us. 

In his “Enjoyment of Poetry,” Max Eastman uses the 
apt illustration of a man crossing the river, we will say coming 
into New York City on a ferry boat, to bring out the nature of 
an esthetic experience. Some men regard it as simply a journey 
to get them where they want to be—a means to be endured. So, 
perhaps, they read a newspaper. One who is idle may glance at 
this and that building identifying it as the Metropolitan Tower, 
the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and so on. 
Another, impatient to arrive, may be on the lookout for land¬ 
marks by which to judge progress toward his destination. Still 
another, who is taking the journey for the first time, looks eagerly 
but is bewildered by the multiplicity of objects spread out to 
view. He sees neither the whole nor the parts; he is like a lay¬ 
man who goes into an unfamiliar factory where many machines 
are plying. Another person, interested in real estate, may see, in 
looking at the skyline, evidence in the height of buildings, of 
the value of land. Or he may let his thoughts roam to the con¬ 
gestion of a great industrial and commercial center. He may go 
on to think of the planlessness of arrangement as evidence of 
the chaos of a society organized on the basis of conflict rather 
than cooperation. Finally the scene formed by the buildings may 
be looked at as colored and lighted volumes in relation to one 
another, to the sky and to the river. He is now seeing esthetically, 
as a painter might see. 

Now the characteristic of the last-named vision in contrast 
with the others mentioned is that it is concerned with a perceptual 
whole, constituted by related parts. No one single figure, aspect, 
or quality is picked out as a means to some further external 
result which is desired, nor as a sign of an inference that may 



ART AS EXPERIENCE 


136 

be drawn. The Empire State Building may be recognized by 
itself. But when it is seen pictorially it is seen as a related part of 
a perceptually organized whole. Its values, its qualities as seen, 
are modified by the other parts of the whole scene, and in turn 
these modify the value, as perceived, of every other part of the 
whole. There is now form in the artistic sense. 

Matisse has described the actual process of painting in 
the following way: “If, on a clean canvas, I put at intervals 
patches of blue, green and red, with every touch that I put on, 
each of those previously laid on loses in importance. Say I have 
to paint an interior; I see before me a wardrobe. It gives me 
a vivid sensation of red; I put on the canvas the particular red 
that satisfies me. A relation is now established between this red 
and the paleness of the canvas. When I put on besides a green, 
and also a yellow to represent the floor, between this green and 
the yellow and the color of the canvas there will be still further 
relations. But these different tones diminish one another. It is 
necessary that the different tones I use be balanced in such a 
way that they do not destroy one another. To secure that, I have 
to put my ideas in order; the relationships between tones must 
be instituted in such a way that they are built up instead of 
being knocked down. A new combination of colors will succeed to 
the first one and will give the wholeness of my conception.” * 

Now there is nothing different in principle here from what 
is done in the furnishing of a room, when the householder sees to 
it that tables, chairs, rugs, lamps, color of walls, and spacing of 
the pictures on them are so selected and arranged that they do 
not clash but form an ensemble. Otherwise there is confusion— 
confusion, that is, in perception . Vision cannot then complete 
itself. It is broken up into a succession of disconnected acts, now 
seeing this, now that, and no mere succession is a series. When 
masses are balanced, colors harmonized, and lines and planes 
meet and intersect fittingly, perception will be serial in order to 
grasp the whole and each sequential act builds up and reenforces 
what went before. Even at first glance there is the sense of quali¬ 
tative unity. There is form. 

♦From “Notes d*ua Peintre,” published in 1908. In another connection 
one might dwell upon the implications of the phrase concerning the neces¬ 
sity for “putting ideas in order.” 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


137 


In a word, form is not found exclusively in objects labeled 
works of art. Wherever perception has not been blunted and per¬ 
verted, there is an inevitable tendency to arrange events and ob¬ 
jects with reference to the demands of complete and unified 
perception. Form is a character of every experience that is an 
experience. Art in its specific sense enacts more deliberately and 
fully the conditions that effect this unity. Form may then be de¬ 
fined as the operation of forces that carry the experience of an 
event, object, scene, and situation to its own integral fulfillment. 
The connection of form with substance is thus inherent, not im¬ 
posed from without. It marks the matter of an experience that is 
carried to consummation. If the matter is of a jolly sort, the form 
that would be fitting to pathetic matter is impossible. If expressed 
in a poem, then meter, rate of movement, words chosen, the whole 
structure, will be different, and in a picture so will the whole 
scheme of color and volume relationships. In comedy, a man at 
work laying bricks while dressed in evening clothes is appropriate; 
the form fits the matter. The same subject-matter would bring 
the movement of another experience to disaster. 

The problem of discovering the nature of form is thus 
identical with that of discovering the means by which are effected 
the carrying forward of an experience to fulfillment. When we 
know these means, we know what form is. While it is true that 
every matter has its own form, or is intimately individual, yet 
there are general conditions involved in the orderly development 
of any subject-matter to its completion, since only when these 
conditions are met does a unified perception take place. 

Some of the conditions of form have been mentioned in 
passing. There can be no movement toward a consummating 
dose unless there is a progressive massing of values, a cumula¬ 
tive effect. This result cannot exist without conservation of the 
import of what has gone before. Moreover, to secure the needed 
continuity, the accumulated experience must be such as to create 
suspense and antidpation of resolution. Accumulation is at the 
same time preparation, as with each phase of the growth of a 
living embryo. Only that is carried on which is led up to; other¬ 
wise there is arrest and a break. For this reason consummation 
is relative; instead of occurring once for all at a given point, it is 
recurrent. The final end is anticipated by rhythmic pauses, 



138 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


while that end is final only in an external way. For as we turn 
from reading a poem or novel or seeing a picture the effect 
presses forward in further experiences, even if only subcon¬ 
sciously. 

Such characteristics as continuity, cumulation, conserva¬ 
tion, tension and anticipation are thus formal conditions of es¬ 
thetic form. The factor of resistance is worth especial notice at 
this point. Without internal tension there would be a fluid rush 
to a straightaway mark; there would be nothing that could be 
called development and fulfillment. The existence of resistance 
defines the place of intelligence in the production of an object of 
fine art. The difficulties to be overcome in bringing about the 
proper reciprocal adaptation of parts constitute what in intel¬ 
lectual work are problems. As in activity dealing with predomi¬ 
natingly intellectual matters, the material that constitutes a 
problem has to be converted into a means for its solution. It can¬ 
not be sidestepped. But in art the resistance encountered enters 
into the work in a more immediate way than in science. The per- 
ceiver as well as artist has to perceive, meet, and overcome 
problems; otherwise, appreciation is transient and overweighted 
with sentiment. For, in order to perceive esthetically, he must 
remake his past experiences so that they can enter integrally into 
a new pattern. He cannot dismiss his past experiences nor can 
he dwell among them as they have been in the past. 

A rigid predetermination of an end-product whether by 
artist or beholder leads to the turning out of a mechanical or 
academic product. The processes by which the final object and 
perception are reached are not, in such cases, means that move 
forward in the construction of a consummating experience. The 
latter is rather of the nature of a stencil, even though the copy 
from which the stencil is made exists in mind and not as a phys¬ 
ical thing. A statement that an artist does not care how his work 
eventuates would not be literally true. But it is true that he cares 
about the end-result as a completion of what goes before and not 
because of its conformity or lack of conformity with a ready-made 
antecedent scheme. He is willing to leave the outcome to the 
adequacy of the means from which it issues and which it sums up. 
Like the scientific inquirer, he permits the subject-matter of his 
perception in connection with the problems it presents to deter- 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


139 


mine the issue, instead of insisting upon its agreement with a 
conclusion decided upon in advance. 

The consummatory phase of experience—which is inter¬ 
vening as well as final—always presents something new. Admira¬ 
tion always includes an element of wonder. As a Renascence 
writer said: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some 
strangeness in the proportion.” The unexpected turn, something 
which the artist himself does not definitely foresee, is a condi¬ 
tion of the felicitous quality of a work of art; it saves it from 
being mechanical. It gives the spontaneity of the unpremeditated 
to what would otherwise be a fruit of calculation. The painter 
and poet like the scientific inquirer know the delights of dis¬ 
covery. Those who carry on their work as a demonstration of a 
preconceived thesis may have the joys of egotistic success but 
not that of fulfillment of an experience for its own sake. In the 
latter they learn by their work, as they proceed, to see and feel 
what had not been part of their original plan and purpose. 

The consummatory phase is recurrent throughout a work 
of art, and in the experience of a great work of art the points of 
its incidence shift in successive observations of it. This fact sets 
the insuperable barrier between mechanical production and use 
and esthetic creation and perception. In the former there are no 
ends until the final end is reached. Then work tends to be labor 
and production to be drudgery. But there is no final term in 
appreciation of a work of art. It carries on and is, therefore, in¬ 
strumental as well as final. Those who deny this fact confine the 
significance of “instrumental” to the process of contributing to 
some narrow, if not base, office of efficacy. When the fact is not 
given a name, they acknowledge it. Santayana speaks of being 
“carried by contemplation of nature to a vivid faith in the ideal.” 
This statement applies to art as to nature, and it indicates an 
instrumental function exercised by a work of art. We are carried 
to a refreshed attitude toward the circumstances and exigencies 
of ordinary experience. The work, in the sense of working, of an 
object of art does not cease when the direct act of perception 
stops. It continues to operate in indirect channels. Indeed, per¬ 
sons who draw back at the mention of “instrumental” in connec¬ 
tion with art often glorify art for precisely the enduring serenity, 
refreshment, or re-education of vision that are induced by it. The 



140 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


real trouble is verbal. Such persons are accustomed to associate 
the word with instrumentalities for narrow ends—as an umbrella 
is instrumental to protection from rain or a mowing machine to 
cutting grain. 

Some features, that at first sight seem extraneous, belong 
in fact to expressiveness. For they further the development of 
an experience so as to give the satisfaction peculiar to striking 
fulfillment. This is true, for example, of evidence of unusual skill 
and of economy in use of means, when these traits are integrated 
with the actual work. Skill is then admired not as part of the 
external equipment of the artist, but as an enhanced expression 
belonging to the object. For it facilitates the carrying on a con¬ 
tinuous process to its own precise and definite conclusion. It 
belongs to the product and not merely to the producer, because 
it is a constituent of form; just as the grace of a greyhound marks 
the movements he performs rather than is a trait possessed by the 
animal as something outside the movements. 

Costliness is, also, as Santayana has pointed out, an ele¬ 
ment in expression, a costliness that has nothing in common with 
vulgar display of purchasing power. Rarity counts to intensify 
expression whether the rarity is that of infrequent occurrence of 
patient labor, or because it has the glamor of a distant clime and 
initiates us into hardly known modes of living. Such instances of 
costliness are part of form because they operate as do all factors 
of the new and unexpected in promoting the building up of a 
unique experience. The familiar may also have this effect. There 
are others beside Charles Lamb who are peculiarly sensitive to 
the charm of the domestic. But they celebrate the familiar instead 
of reproducing its forms in waxy puppets. The old takes on a 
new guise in which the sense of the familiar is rescued from the 
oblivion that custom usually effects. Elegance is also a part of 
form for it marks a work whenever subject-matter moves to its 
conclusion with inevitable logic. 

Some of the traits mentioned are more often referred to 
technique than to form. The attribution is correct whenever the 
qualities in question are referred to the artist rather than to his 
work. There is a technique that obtrudes, like the flourishes of a 
writing master. If skill and economy suggest their author, they 
take us away from the work itself. The traits of the work which 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 14! 

suggest the skill of its producer are then in the work but they are 
not oj it. And the reason they are not of it is precisely the negative 
side of the point which I am emphasizing. They do not take us 
anywhere in the institution of unified developing experience; 
they do not act as inherent forces to carry the object of which 
they are a professed part to consummation. Such traits are like 
any other superfluous or excrescent element. Technique .s neither 
identical with form nor yet wholly independent of it. It is, prop¬ 
erly, the skill with which the elements constituting form are 
managed. Otherwise it is show-off or a virtuosity separated from 
expression. 

Significant advances in technique occur, therefore, in con¬ 
nection with efforts to solve problems that are not technical but 
that grow out of the need for new modes of experience. This 
statement is as true of esthetic arts as of the technological. There 
are improvements in technique that have to do merely with the 
bettering of an old-style vehicle. But they are insignificant in 
comparison with the change in technique from the wagon to the 
automobile when social needs called for a rapid transportation 
under personal control that was not possible even with the rail¬ 
way locomotive. If we take developments in the major techniques 
of painting during and since the Renascence we find that they 
were connected with efforts to solve problems that grew out of 
the experience expressed in painting and not out of the craftsman¬ 
ship of painting itself. 

There was first the problem of transition from depiction 
of contours in flat-like mosaics to “three-dimensional” presenta¬ 
tions. Until experience expanded to demand expression of some¬ 
thing more than decorative renderings of religious themes 
determined by ecclesiastic fiat there was nothing to motivate 
this change. In its own place, the convention of “flat” painting 
is just as good as any other convention, as Chinese rendering of 
perspective is as perfect in one way as that of Western painting 
in another. The force that brought about the change in technique 
was the growth of naturalism in experience outside of art. Some¬ 
thing of the same sort applies to the next great change, mastery 
of means for rendering aerial perspective and light. The third 
great technical change was the use by the Venetians of color to 
effect what other schools, especially the Florentine, had accom- 



142 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


plished by means of the sculpturesque line—a change indicative 
of a vast secularization of values with its demand for the glorifi¬ 
cation of the sumptuous and suave in experience. 

I am not concerned, however, with the history of an art, 
but with indicating how technique functions in respect to ex¬ 
pressive form. The dependence of significant technique upon the 
need for expressing certain distinctive modes of experience is 
testified to by the three stages that usually attend the appearance 
of a new technique. At first there is experimentation on the side 
of artists, with considerable exaggeration of the factor to which 
the new technique is adapted. This was true of the use of line 
to define recognition of the value of the round, as with Man¬ 
tegna; it is true of the typical impressionists in respect to light- 
effects. On the side of the public there is general condemnation 
of the intent and subject-matter of these adventures in art. In 
the next stage, the fruits of the new procedure are absorbed; they 
are naturalized and effect certain modifications of the old tra¬ 
dition. This period establishes the new aims and hence the new 
technique as having “classic” validity, and is accompanied with 
a prestige that holds over into subsequent periods. Thirdly, there 
is a period when special features of the technique of the masters 
of the balanced period are adopted for imitation and made ends 
in themselves. Thus in the later seventeenth century, the treat¬ 
ment of dramatic movement characteristic of Titian and still 
more of Tintoretto, by means chiefly of light and shade, is ex¬ 
aggerated to the point of the theatrical. In Guercino, Caravaggio, 
Feti, Carracci, Ribera, the attempt to depict movement dramati¬ 
cally results in posed tableaux and defeats itself. In this third 
stage (which dogs creative work after the latter has received 
general recognition), technique is borrowed without relation to 
the urgent experience that at first evoked it. The academic and 
eclectic result. 

I have previously stated that craftsmanship alone is not 
art. What is now added is the often ignored point of the thor¬ 
ough relativity of technique to form in art. It was not lack of 
dexterity that gives early Gothic sculpture its special form nor 
that gives Chinese paintings their special kind of perspective. 
The artists said what they had to say better with the techniques 
they used than they could have done with another. What to us 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 143 

is a charming naivete was to them the simple and direct method 
of expressing a felt subject-matter. For this reason, while there is 
not continuity of repetition in any esthetic art, neither is there, 
of necessity, advance. Greek sculpture will never be equaled 
in its own terms. Thorwaldsen is no Pheidias. That which Ve¬ 
netian painters achieved will stand unrivaled. The modern re¬ 
production of the architecture of the Gothic cathedral always 
lacks the quality of the original. What happens in the move¬ 
ment of art is emergence of new materials of experience de¬ 
manding expression, and therefore involving in their expression 
new forms and techniques. Manet went back in time to achieve 
his brush-work, but his return involved no mere copying of an 
old technique. 

The relativity of technique to form is nowhere better ex¬ 
emplified than in Shakespeare. After his reputation was estab¬ 
lished as the universal literary artist, critics thought it necessary 
to assume that greatness adhered to all his work. They built up 
theories of literary form on the basis of special techniques. They 
were shocked when a more accurate scholarship showed that 
many much lauded things were borrowed from the conventions 
of the Elizabethan stage. To those who have identified technique 
with form, the effect is to deflate Shakespeare’s greatness. But 
his substantial form remains just what it always has been and is 
unaffected by his local adaptations. Allowance for some aspects 
of his technique should indeed but concentrate attention upon 
what is significant in his art. 

It is hardly possible to overstate the relativity of tech¬ 
nique. It varies with all sorts of circumstances having little rela¬ 
tion to the work of art—perhaps a new discovery in chemistry 
that affects pigments. The significant changes are those which 
affect form itself in its esthetic sense. The relativity of technique 
to instruments is often overlooked. It becomes important when 
the new instrument is a sign of a change in culture—that is, in 
material to be expressed. Early pottery is largely determined by 
the potters’ wheel. Rugs and blankets owe much of their geo¬ 
metric design to the nature of the instrument of weaving. Such 
things by themselves are like the physical constitution of an 
artist—as Cezanne wished he had Manet’s muscles. Such things 
become of more than antiquarian interest only when they relate 



144 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


to a change in culture and experience. The technique of those 
who painted long ago on walls of caves and who carved bone 
served the purpose that conditions offered or imposed. Artists 
always have used and always will use all kinds of techniques. 

There is, on the other side, a tendency among lay critics 
to confine experimentation to scientists in the laboratory. Yet 
one of the essential traits of the artist is that he is born an experi¬ 
menter. Without this trait he becomes a poor or a good acade¬ 
mician. The artist is compelled to be an experimenter because he 
has to express an intensely individualized experience through 
means and materials that belong to the common and public world. 
This problem cannot be solved once for all. It is met in every new 
work undertaken. Otherwise an artist repeats himself and becomes 
esthetically dead. Only because the artist operates experimentally 
does he open new fields of experience and disclose new aspects 
and qualities in familiar scenes and objects. 

If, instead of saying “experimental” one were to say “ad¬ 
venturous,” one would probably win general assent—so great is 
the power of words. Because the artist is a lover of unalloyed 
experience, he shuns objects that are already saturated, and he is 
therefore always on the growing edge of things. By the nature of 
the case, he is as unsatisfied with what is established as is a geo¬ 
graphic explorer or a scientific inquirer. The “classic” when it 
was*produced bore the marks of adventure. This fact is ignored 
by classicists in their protest against romantics who undertake 
the development of new values, often without possessing means 
for their creation. That which is now classic is so because of 
completion of adventure, not because of its absence. The one who 
perceives and enjoys esthetically always has the sense of adven¬ 
ture in reading any classic that Keats had in reading Chapman’s 
“Homer.” 


FORM in the concrete can be discussed only with respect to 
actual works of art. These cannot be presented in a book on the 
theory of esthetics. But absorption in a work of art so complete 
as to exclude analysis cannot be long sustained. There is a rhythm 
of surrender and reflection. We interrupt our yielding to the 
object to ask where it is leading and how it is leading there. We 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


145 


then become occupied in some degree with the formal conditions 
of a concrete form. We have, indeed, already mentioned these 
conditions of form in speaking of cumulation, tension, conserva¬ 
tion, anticipation, and fulfillment as formal characteristics of an 
esthetic experience. The one who withdraws far enough from the 
work of art to escape the hypnotic effect of its total qualitative 
impression will not use these words nor be explicitly conscious of 
the things for which they stand. But the traits he distinguishes as 
those which gave the work its power over him are reducible 
to such conditions of form as have been stated. 

The total overwhelming impression comes first, perhaps 
in seizure by a sudden glory of the landscape, or by the effect 
upon us of entrance into a cathedral when dim light, incense, 
stained glass and majestic proportions fuse in one indistinguish¬ 
able whole. We say with truth that a painting strikes us. There 
is an impact that precedes all definite recognition of what it is 
about. As the painter Delacroix said about this first and pre- 
analytic phase “before knowing what the picture represents you 
are seized by its magical accord.” This effect is particularly con¬ 
spicuous for most persons in music. The impression directly made 
by an harmonious ensemble in any art is often described as the 
musical quality of that art. 

Not only, however, is it impossible to prolong this stage of 
esthetic experience indefinitely, but it is not desirable to do so. 
There is only one guarantee that this direct seizure be at a high 
level, and that is the degree of cultivation of the one experiencing 
it. In itself it may be, and often is, the result of cheap means 
employed upon meretricious stuff. And the only way in which to 
rise from that level to one where there is intrinsic assurance of 
worth is through intervening periods of discrimination. Distinc¬ 
tion in product is intimately connected with the process of dis¬ 
tinguishing. 

While both original seizure and subsequent critical dis¬ 
crimination have equal claims, each to its own complete de¬ 
velopment, it must not be forgotten that direct and unreasoned 
impression comes first. There is about such occasions something 
of the quality of the wind that bloweth where it listeth. Some¬ 
times it comes and sometimes it does not, even in the presence 
of the same object. It cannot be forced, and, when it does not 



146 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


arrive, it is not vase to seek to recover by direct action the first 
fine rapture. The beginning of esthetic understanding is the re¬ 
tention of these personal experiences and their cultivation. For, 
in the end, nourishing of them will pass into discrimination. The 
outcome of discrimination will often be to convince us that 
the particular thing in question was not worthy of calling out the 
rapt seizure; that in fact the latter was caused by factors adven¬ 
titious to the object itself. But this outcome is itself a definite 
contribution to esthetic education and lifts the next direct im¬ 
pression to a higher level. In the interest of discrimination, as 
well as that of direct capture by the object, the one sure means is 
refusal to simulate and pretend when that which, when it was 
intense, seemed to the ancients to be a kind of divine madness, 
does not arrive. 

The phase of reflection in the rhythm of esthetic apprecia¬ 
tion is criticism in germ and the most elaborate and conscious 
criticism is but its reasoned expansion. The development of that 
particular theme belongs elsewhere * But one topic belonging 
within that general theme must at least be touched upon here. 
Many tangled problems, multifarious ambiguities, and historic 
controversies are involved in the question of the subjective and 
objective in art. Yet if the position that has been taken regarding 
form and substance is correct, there is at least one important 
sense in which form must be as objective as the material which 
it qualifies. If form emerges when raw materials are selectively 
arranged with reference to rendering an experience unified in 
movement to its intrinsic fulfillment, tnen surely objective condi¬ 
tions are controlling forces in the production of a work of art. 
A work of fine art, a statue, building, drama*, poem, novel, when 
done, is as much a part of the objective world as is a locomotive 
or a dynamo. And, as much as the latter, its existence is causally 
conditioned by the coordination of materials and energies of the 
external world. I do not mean that this is the whole of the work of 
art; even the product of industrial art was made to serve a pur¬ 
pose and is actually, instead of potentially, a locomotive as it 
operates in conditions where it produces consequences beyond 
its bare physical being; as, namely, it transports human beings 
and goods. But I do mean that there can be no esthetic experi- 
♦ See Chapter XIII. 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 147 

ence apart from an object, and that for an object to be the con¬ 
tent of esthetic appreciation it must satisfy those objective 
conditions without which cumulation, conservation, reenforcement, 
transition into something more complete, are impossible. The 
general conditions of esthetic form, of which I spoke a few para¬ 
graphs ago, are objective in the sense of belonging to the world 
of physical materials and energies: while the latter do not suffice 
for an esthetic experience, they are a sine qua non of its exist¬ 
ence. And the immediate artistic evidence for the truth of this 
statement is the interest that obsesses every artist in observing 
the world about him and his devoted care for the physical media 
with which he works. 

What, then, are those formal conditions of artistic form 
that are rooted deep in the world itself? The implications of 
the question involve no material not already considered. Inter¬ 
action of environment with organism is the source, direct or in¬ 
direct, of all experience and from the environment come those 
checks, resistances, furtherances, equilibria, which, when they 
meet with the energies of the organism in appropriate ways, con¬ 
stitute form. The first characteristic of the environing world that 
makes possible the existence of artistic form is rhythm. There is 
rhythm in nature before poetry, painting, architecture and music 
exist. Were it not so, rhythm as an essential property of form 
would be merely superimposed upon material, not an operation 
through which material effects its own culmination in experience. 

The larger rhythms of nature are so bound up with the 
conditions of even elementary human subsistence, that they can¬ 
not have escaped the notice of man as soon as he became con¬ 
scious of his occupations and the conditions that rendered them 
effective. Dawn and sunset, day and night, rain and sunshine, 
are in their alternation factors that directly concern human beings. 

The circular course of the seasons affects almost every 
human interest. When man became agricultural, the rhythmic 
march of the seasons was of necessity identified with the destiny 
of the community. The cycle of irregular regularities in the shape 
and behavior of the moon seemed fraught with mysterious import 
for the welfare of man, beast, and crops, and inextricably bound 
up with the mystery of generation. With these larger rhythms 
were bound up those of the ever-recurring cycles of growth from 



148 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


seed to a maturity that reproduced the seed; the reproduction of 
animals, the relation of male and female, the never-ceasing round 
of births and deaths. 

Man’s own life is affected by the rhythm of waking and 
sleeping, hungering and satiety, work and rest. The long rhythms 
of agrarian pursuits were broken into minuter and more directly 
perceptible cycles with the development of the crafts. With the 
working of wood, metal, fibers, clay, the change of raw material 
into consummated result, through technically controlled means, 
is objectively manifest. In working the matter, there are the re¬ 
current beats of patting, chipping, molding, cutting, pounding, 
that mark* off the work into measures. But more significant were 
those times of preparation for war and planting, those times of 
celebrating victory and harvest, when movements and speech took 
on cadenced form. 

Thus, sooner or later, the participation of man in nature’s 
rhythms, a partnership much more intimate than is any observa¬ 
tion of them for purposes of knowledge, induced him to impose 
rhythm on changes where they did not appear. The apportioned 
reed, the stretched string and taut skin rendered the measures of 
action conscious through song and dance. Experiences of war, 
of hunt, of sowing and reaping, of the death and resurrection of 
vegetation, of stars circling over watchful shepherds, of constant 
return of the inconstant moon, were undergone to be reproduced 
in pantomime and generated the sense of life as drama. The 
mysterious movements of serpent, elk, boar, fell into rhythms 
that brought the very essence of the lives of these animals to reali¬ 
zation as they were enacted in dance, chiseled in stone, wrought 
in silver, or limned on the walls of caves. The formative arts 
that shaped things of use were wedded to the rhythms of 
voice and the self-contained movements of the body, and out of 
the union technical arts gained the quality of fine art. Then the 
apprehended rhythms of nature were employed to introduce 
evident order into some phase of the confused observations and 
images of mankind. Man no longer conformed his activities of 
necessity to the rhythmic changes of nature’s cycles, but used 
those which necessity forced upon him to celebrate his relations 
to nature as if she had conferred upon him the freedom of her 
realm. 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


149 


The reproduction of the order of natural changes and the 
perception of that order were at first close together, so close that 
no distinction existed between art and science. They were both 
called techne. Philosophy was written in verse and, under the in¬ 
fluence of imaginative endeavor, the world became a cosmos. 
Early Greek philosophy told the story of nature, and since a story 
has beginning, movement, and climax, the substance of the story 
demanded esthetic form. Within the story, minor rhythms became 
parts of the great rhythm of generation and destruction, of com¬ 
ing into being and passing out of being; of remission and concen¬ 
tration; of aggregation and dispersion; of consolidation and 
dissolution. The idea of law emerged with the idea of harmony, 
and conceptions that are now prosaic commonplaces emerged as 
parts of the art of nature as that was construed in the art of 
language. 

The existence of a multitude of illustrations of rhythm in 
nature is a familiar fact Oft cited are the ebb and flow of tides, 
the cycle of lunar changes, the pulses in the flow of blood, the 
anabolism and katabolism of all living processes. What is not so 
generally perceived is that every uniformity and regularity of 
change in nature is a rhythm. The terms “natural law” and 
“natural rhythm” are synonymous. As far as nature is to us more 
than a flux lacking order in its mutable changes, as far as it is 
more than a whirlpool of confusions, it is marked by rhythms. 
Formulae for these rhythms constitute the canons of science. 
Astronomy, geology, dynamics, and kinematics record various 
rhythms that are the orders of different kinds of change. The 
very conceptions of molecule, atom, and electron arise out of the 
need of formulating lesser and subtler rhythms that are dis¬ 
covered. Mathematics are the most generalized statements 
conceivable corresponding to the most universally obtaining 
rhythms. The one, two, three, four, of counting, the construc¬ 
tion of lines and angles into geometric patterns, the highest 
flights of vector analysis, are means of recording or of imposing 
rhythm. 

The history of the progress of natural science is the record 
of operations that refine and that render more comprehensive 
our grasp of the gross and limited rhythms that first engaged the 
attention of archaic man. The development reached a point where 



ISO 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the scientific and artistic parted ways. Today the rhythms which 
physical science celebrates are obvious only to thought, not to 
perception in immediate experience. They are presented in sym¬ 
bols which signify nothing in sense-perception. They make natu¬ 
ral rhythms manifest only to those who have undergone long and 
severe discipline. Yet a common interest in rhythm is still the 
tie which holds science and art in kinship. Because of this kin¬ 
ship, it is possible that there may come a day in which subject- 
matter that now exists only for laborious reflection, that appeals 
only to those who are trained to interpret that which to sense are 
only hieroglyphics, will become the substance of poetry, and 
thereby be the matter of enjoyed perception. 

Because rhythm is a universal scheme of existence, under¬ 
lying all realization of order in change, it pervades all the arts, 
literary, musical, plastic and architectural, as well as the dance. 
Since man succeeds only as he adapts his behavior to the order 
of nature, his achievements and victories, as they ensue upon 
resistance and struggle, become the matrix of all esthetic subject- 
matter; in some sense they constitute the common pattern of art, 
the ultimate conditions of form. Their cumulative orders of suc¬ 
cession become without express intent the means by which man 
commemorates and celebrates the most intense and full moments 
of his experience. Underneath the rhythm of every art and of 
every work of art there lies, as a substratum in the depths of the 
subconsciousness, the basic pattern of the relations of the live 
creature to his environment. 

It is not, therefore, just because of the systole and diastole 
in the coursing of the blood, or alternate inspiration and exhalation 
in breathing, the swing of the legs and arms in locomotion, nor 
because of any combination of specific exemplifications of natural 
rhythm, that man delights in rhythmic portrayals and presenta¬ 
tions. The importance of such considerations is great. But ulti¬ 
mately the delight springs from the fact that such things are in¬ 
stances of the relationships that determine the course of life, 
natural and achieved. The supposition that the interest in rhythm 
which dominates the fine arts can be explained simply on the 
basis of rhythmic processes in the living body is but another case 
of the separation of organism from environment. Man attended 
to the environment long before he gave much observation or 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 151 

thought to his own organic processes and certainly long before 
he developed attentive interest to his own mental states. 

Naturalism is a word of many meanings in philosophy as 
well as in art. Like most ’isms—classicism and romanticism, ideal¬ 
ism and realism in art—it has become an emotional term, a war- 
cry of partisans. In respect to art, even more than in respect to 
philosophy, formal definitions leave us cold; by the time we 
arrive at them, the elements that stirred the blood and aroused 
admiration in the concrete have vanished. In poetry, “nature” is 
often associated with an interest that is distinct from, if not op¬ 
posed to, matter derived from the life of men in association. As 
with Wordsworth, nature is, then, that to which one turns in com¬ 
munion for the sake of consolation and peace 

“... when the fretful stir 
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world 
Have hung upon the beatings of the heart? 

In painting, “naturalism” suggests turning to the more incidental 
and, as it were, informal, the more immediately evident aspects 
of earth, sky, and water in distinction from those pictures that 
attend to structural relationships. But naturalism in the broadest 
and deepest sense of nature is a necessity of all great art, even 
of the most religiously conventional and of abstract painting, and 
of the drama that deals with human action in an urban setting. 
Discrimination can be made only with reference to the particular 
aspect and phase of nature in which the rhythms that mark all 
relationships of life and its setting are displayed. 

Natural and objective conditions must be used in any 
case to carry through to completion the expression of the values 
that belong to an integrated experience in its immediate quality. 
But naturalism in art means something more than the necessity 
all arts are under of employing natural and sensuous media. It 
means that all which can be expressed is some aspect of the rela¬ 
tion of man and his environment, and that this subject-matter 
attains its most perfect wedding with form when the basic rhythms 
that characterize the interaction of the two are depended upon 
and trusted with abandon. “Naturalism” is often alleged to 
signify disregard of all values that cannot be reduced to the 



152 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


physical and animal. But so to conceive nature is to isolate 
environing conditions as the whole of nature and to exclude man 
from the scheme of things. The very existence of art as an ob¬ 
jective phenomenon using natural materials and media is proof 
that nature signifies nothing less than the whole complex of the 
results of the interaction of man, with his memories and hopes, 
understanding and desire, with that world to which one-sided 
philosophy confines “nature.” The true antithesis of nature is 
not art but arbitrary conceit, fantasy, and stereotyped conven¬ 
tion. 

Not but that there exist conventions which are vital and 
natural. The arts in certain times and places are controlled by 
conventions of rite and ceremony. Yet they do not then of neces¬ 
sity become barren and unesthetic, for the conventions them¬ 
selves live in the life of the community. Even when they assume 
prescribed hieratic and liturgical shapes, they may express what 
is active in the experience of the group. Vftien Hegel asserted 
that the first stage in art is always “symbolic” he hinted, in terms 
of his philosophy, at the fact that certain arts were once free to 
express only that aspect of experience that had a priestly or 
royal sanction. Yet it was still an aspect of experience 
that was expressed. Moreover, as a generalization, the char¬ 
acterization is false. For in all times and places, there have been 
popular arts of song, dance, story-telling, and picture-making, 
outside of officially sanctioned and directed arts. The secular 
arts were, however, more directly naturalistic, and, whenever 
secularism invaded experience, their qualities remade the official 
arts in a naturalistic direction. As far as this did not occur, that 
which was once vital degenerated. Witness, for example, the de¬ 
generate baroque that is found in public squares in southwestern 
Europe. It is trivial to the point of frivolity, with cupids mas¬ 
querading for cherubs, as a typical example. 

Genuine naturalism is as different from imitation of things 
and traits as it is from imitation of the procedures of artists upon 
whom time has conferred specious authority—specious because 
not arising from experience of the things which they experienced 
and expressed. It is a term of contrast and signifies a deeper and 
wider sensitivity to some aspect of the rhythms of existence 
than had previously existed. It is a term of contrast, because it 



153 


THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 

signifies that in some particular a personal perception has been 
substituted for a convention. Let me recur to what was previously 
said about the expression of beatification in paintings. The as¬ 
sumption that certain definite lines stand for a given emotion is 
a convention that does not arise from observation; it stands in 
the way of acute sensitivity of response. Genuine naturalism 
supervened when the unfixity of human features under the influ¬ 
ence of emotions was perceived; when their own variety of 
rhythm was reacted to. I do not mean to restrict limiting con¬ 
ventions to ecclesiastic influence. More hampering ones arise 
within artists themselves when they become academic, like the 
later eclectic painting in Italy and most of English poetry in 
the eighteenth century. What for convenience I call “realistic” 
art (the word is arbitrary but the thing exists), in distinction 
from naturalistic, reproduces details but misses their moving and 
organizing rhythm. Like a photograph it wears out, save for the 
recording purposes of prose. It wears out because the object can 
be approached only from one fixed point of view. The relations 
that form a subtle rhythm promote approach from changing 
points of view. How many individualized varieties of personal 
experience utilize a rhythm that is formally the same, though it 
is actually differentiated by the material which it forms into the 
substance of a work of art! 

In opposition to the so-called poetic diction that flourished 
in England after the death of Milton, Wordsworth’s poetry was 
a naturalistic revolt. The assumption (due to misunderstanding 
of something that Wordsworth wrote) that its essence was a use 
of words of the common idiom makes non-sense of his actual 
work. For it assumes that he continued the separation of form 
and substance characteristic of earlier poetry, only turning it 
face-about. In fact, its significance is illustrated in an early coup¬ 
let of the poet when that is taken in connection with a comment 
of his own. 

“And, fronting the bright west, yon oak entwines 
Its darkening boughs and leaves in stronger lines.” 

This is verse rather than poetry. It is stark description un¬ 
touched by emotion. As Wordsworth himself said of it: “This is 



154 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


feebly and imperfectly exprest.” But he goes on to add, “I recol¬ 
lect distinctly the very spot where this first struck me. It was on 
the way between Hawkshead and Ambleside and gave me ex¬ 
treme pleasure. The moment was important in my poetic history; 
for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of nat¬ 
ural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any 
age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them; and I 
made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency. I 
could not at this time have been above fourteen years of age.” 

Here is a definite instance of transition from the conven¬ 
tional, from something abstractly generalized that both sprang 
from and conduced to incomplete perception, to the naturalistic— 
to an experience that corresponded more subtly and sensitively 
to the rhythm of natural change. For it was not mere variety, 
mere flux, he wished to express, but that of ordered relationships— 
the relation of accent of leaves and boughs to variations of sun¬ 
shine. The details of place and time, of the particular oak, 
disappear; the relation remains and yet not in the abstract but 
definitely, though, in this particular case, rather prosaically 
embodied. 

The discussion involves no diversion from the theme of 
rhythm as a condition of form. Other persons may prefer some 
other word than “naturalistic” to express escape from conven¬ 
tion to perception. But whatever word is used, it must, if it is to 
be true to refreshment of esthetic form, emphasize sensitivity to 
natural rhythm. And this fact brings me to a short definition of 
rhythm. It is ordered variation of changes. When there is a uni¬ 
formly even flow, with no variations of intensity or speed, there 
is no rhythm. There is stagnation even though it be the stagna¬ 
tion of unvarying motion. Equally there is no rhythm when varia¬ 
tions are not placed. There is a wealth of suggestion in the phrase 
u takes place” The change not only comes but it belongs; it has 
its definite place in a larger whole. The most obvious instances of 
rhythm concern variations in intensity as, in the verses quoted 
from Wordsworth, certain forms grow strong against the weaker 
forms of other boughs and leaves. There is no rhythm of any 
kind, no matter how delicate and no matter how extensive, where 
variation of pulse and rest do not occur. But these variations 
of intensity are not, in any complex rhythm, the whole of the 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 155 

matter. They serve to define variations in number, in extent, in 
velocity, and in intrinsic qualitative differences, as of hue, tone, 
etc. That is, variations of intensity are relative to the subject- 
matter directly experienced. Each beat, in differentiating a part 
within the whole, adds to the force of what went before while 
creating a suspense that is a demand for something to come. It 
is not a variation in a single feature but a modulation of the 
entire pervasive and unifying qualitative substratum. 

A gas that evenly saturates a container, a torrential flood 
sweeping away all resistance, a stagnant pond, an unbroken waste 
of sand, and a monotonous roar are wholes without rhythm. A 
pond moving in ripples, forked lightning, the waving of branches 
in the wind, the beating of a bird’s wing, the whorl of sepals and 
petals, changing shadows of clouds on a meadow, are simple 
natural rhythms.* There must be energies resisting each other. 
Each gains intensity for a certain period, but thereby com¬ 
presses some opposed energy until the latter can overcome the 
other which has been relaxing itself as it extends. Then the 
operation is reversed, not necessarily in equal periods of time but 
in some ratio that is felt as orderly. Resistance accumulates 
energy; it institutes conservation until release and expansion 
ensue. There is, at the moment of reversal, an interval, a pause, 
a rest, by which the interaction of opposed energies is defined 
and rendered perceptible. The pause is a balance or symmetry 
of antagonistic forces. Such is the generic schema of rhythmic 
change save that the statement fails to take account of minor co¬ 
incident changes of expansion and contraction that are going on 
in every phase and aspect of an organized whole, and of the fact 
that the successive waves and pulses are themselves cumulative 
with respect to final consummation. 

With respect to human emotion, an immediate discharge 
that is fatal to expression is detrimental to rhythm. There is not 
enough resistance to create tension, and thereby a periodic accu¬ 
mulation and release. Energy is not conserved so as to contribute 
to an ordered development. We get a sob or shriek, a grimace, a 
scowl, a contortion, a fist striking out wildly. Darwin’s book en¬ 
titled “Expression of Emotions”—more accurately their discharge 

♦The fact that we designate it a “whorl” indicates that we are sub¬ 
consciously aware of the tension of energies involved. 



156 ART AS EXPERIENCE 

—is full of examples of what happens when an emotion is simply 
an organic state let loose on the environment in direct overt 
action. When complete release is postponed and is arrived at 
finally through a succession of ordered periods of accumulation 
and conservation, marked off into intervals by the recurrent pauses 
of balance, the manifestation of emotion becomes true expres¬ 
sion, acquiring esthetic quality—and only then. 

Emotional energy continues to work but now does real 
work; it accomplishes something. It evokes, assembles, accepts, 
and rejects memories, images, observations, and works them into 
a whole toned throughout by the same immediate emotional feel¬ 
ing. Thereby is presented an object that is unified and distin¬ 
guished throughout. The resistance offered to immediate expres¬ 
sion of emotion is precisely that which compels it to assume 
rhythmic form. This, indeed, is Coleridge’s explanation of meter in 
verse. Its origin, he says, he “would trace to the balance in the 
mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in 
check the workings of passion.... This salutary antagonism is as¬ 
sisted by the very state which it counteracts, and this balance of 
antagonists becomes organized into meter by a supervening act of 
will or judgment, consciously and for the foreseen purpose of 
pleasure.” There is “an interpenetration of passion and of will, 
of spontaneous impulse and voluntary purpose.” Meter thus 
“tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility of both the gen¬ 
eral feelings and the attention. This effect it produces by the con¬ 
tinued excitement of surprise and the quick reciprocations of 
curiosity gratified and re-excited, which are too slight indeed to 
be at any one moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet be¬ 
come considerable in their aggregate influence.” Music compli¬ 
cates and intensifies the process of genial reciprocating antago¬ 
nism, suspense and reenforcement, where the various “voices” at 
once oppose and answer one another. 

Santayana has truly remarked: “Perceptions do not re¬ 
main in the mind, as would be suggested by the trite simile of the 
seal and the wax, passive and changeless, until time wears off 
their rough edges and makes them fade. No, perceptions fall into 
the brain rather as seeds into a furrowed field or even as sparks 
into a keg of gunpowder. Each image breeds a hundred more, 
sometimes slowly and subterraneously, sometimes (as when a 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


157 

passionate train is started) with a sudden burst of fancy.” Even 
in abstract processes of thought, connection with the primary 
motor apparatus is not entirely severed, and the motor mechanism 
is linked up with reservoirs of energy in the sympathetic and 
endocrine system. An observation, an idea flashing into the mind, 
starts something. The result may be a too direct discharge to be 
rhythmic. There may be a display of rude undisciplined force. 
There may be a feebleness that allows energy to dissipate itself 
in idle day-dreaming. There may be too great openness of certain 
channels due to habits having become blind routines—when activity 
takes the form sometimes identified exclusively with “practical” 
doing. Unconscious fears of a world unfriendly to dominating 
desires breed inhibition of all action or confine it within familiar 
channels. There are multitudes of ways, varying between poles 
of tepid apathy and rough impatience, in which energy once 
aroused, fails to move in an ordered relation of accumulation, 
opposition, suspense and pause, toward final consummation of an 
experience. The latter is then inchoate, mechanical, or loose and 
diffuse. Such cases define, by contrast, the nature of rhythm and 
expression. 

Physically, if you turn a faucet only a little, resistance 
to the flow compels a conservation of energy until resistance is 
overcome. Then water comes in individual drops and at regular 
intervals. If a stream of water falls a sufficient distance, as in a 
cataract, surface tension causes the stream to reach the bottom 
in single globules. Polarity, or opposition of energies, is every¬ 
where necessary to the definition, the delimitation, that resolves 
an otherwise uniform mass and expanse into individual forms. At 
the same time the balanced distribution of opposite energies pro¬ 
vides the measure or order which prevents variation from becom¬ 
ing a disordered heterogeneity. Paintings as well as music, drama, 
and the novel are characterized by tension. In its obvious forms 
it is seen in the use of complementary colors, the contrast of fore¬ 
ground and background, of central and peripheral objects. In 
modern paintings, the necessary contrast and relation of light 
and dark is not attained by using shading, umbers and browns, 
but by pure colors each of which in itself is bright. Curves similar 
to one another are used in defining contours but with opposed 
direction, up and down, forward and back. Single lines also ex- 



158 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


hibit tension. As Leo Stein has remarked, “Tension in line can 
be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the 
force it takes to bend the line of a contour. This will depend upon 
the inherent elasticity of the line, the direction and energy im¬ 
parted by the previous portion, and so on.” The universality of 
use of intervals in works of art is significant. They are not breaks, 
since they bring about both individualized delimitation and pro¬ 
portionate distribution. They specify and they relate at the same 
time. 

The medium through which energy operates determines 
the resulting work. The resistance to be overcome in song, dance, 
and dramatic presentation is partly within the organism itself, 
embarrassment, fear, awkwardness, self-consciousness, lack of 
vitality, and partly in the audience addressed. Lyrical utterance 
and dance, the sounds emitted by musical instruments stir the at¬ 
mosphere or the ground. They do not have to meet the opposi¬ 
tion that is found in reshaping external material. Resistance is 
personal and consequences are directly personal on the side of 
both producer and consumer. Yet eloquent utterance is not writ 
in water. The organisms, the persons concerned are in some meas¬ 
ure remade. Composer, writer, painter, sculptor, work in a medium 
that is more external and at a greater remove from the audience 
than do actor, dancer, and musical performer. They reshape an ex¬ 
ternal material that offers resistance and sets up tensions within, 
while they are relieved of the pressure exercised by an immediate 
audience. The difference goes deep. It appeals to difference in 
temperament and talent and different moods in the audience. 
Painting and architecture cannot receive the direct excited 
simultaneous acclaim evoked by the theater, the dance, and the 
musical performance. The direct personal contact established by 
eloquence, music, and enacted drama is sui generis. 

The immediate effect of the plastic and architectural arts 
is not organic but in the enduring environing world. It is at once 
more indirect and more lasting. Song and drama recorded in 
letters, music that is written, take their place among the forma¬ 
tive arts. The effect of the objective modifications brought about 
in the formative arts is dual. On the one hand, there is a direct 
lowering of tension between man and the world. Man finds him¬ 
self more at home, since he is in a world that he has participated 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 


159 


in making. He becomes habituated and relatively at ease. In 
some cases and within certain limits, the resulting greater ac¬ 
commodation of man and the environment to each other is unfa¬ 
vorable to further esthetic creation. Things are now too smooth; 
there is not enough irregularity to create demand for a new mani¬ 
festation and opportunity for a new rhythm. Art becomes stereo¬ 
typed, and contented with playing minor variations upon old 
themes in styles and manners that are agreeable because they 
are the channels of pleasant reminiscence. The environment is, 
in so far, exhausted, worn out, esthetically speaking. The recur¬ 
rence of the academic and eclectic in the arts is a phenomenon 
that cannot be ignored. And if we usually associate the academic 
with painting and sculpture rather than with, say, poetry or the 
novel, it is none the less true that the reliance of the latter upon 
stock scenes, variations of familiar situations and dressings-up 
of readily recognized types of character have all the traits that 
make us call a picture academic. 

But in time, this very familiarity sets up resistance in 
some minds. Familiar things are absorbed and become a deposit 
in which the seeds or sparks of new conditions set up a turmoil. 
When the old has not been incorporated, the outcome is merely 
eccentricity. But great original artists take a tradition into 
themselves. They have not shunned but digested it. Then the 
very conflict set up between it and what is new in themselves and 
in their environment creates the tension that demands a new 
mode of expression. Shakespeare may have had “little Latin and 
less Greek” but he was such an insatiable devourer of accessible 
material that he would have been a plagiarist if the material 
had not at once antagonized and cooperated with his personal 
vision by means of an equally insatiable curiosity concerning the 
life surrounding him. The great innovators in modern painting 
were more assiduous students of the pictures of the past than 
were the imitators who set the contemporary fashion. But the 
materials of their personal vision operated to oppose the old tra¬ 
ditions and out of the reciprocal conflict and reenforcement came 
new rhythms. 

In the facts indicated are the foundations of an esthetic 
theory based on art and not on extraneous preconceptions. Theory 
can be based only upon an understanding of the central rdle of 



160 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


energy within and without, and of that interaction of energies 
which institutes opposition in company with accumulation, conser¬ 
vation, suspense and interval, and cooperative movement toward 
fulfillment in an ordered, or rhythmical experience. Then the in¬ 
ward energy finds release in expression and the outward embodi¬ 
ment of energy in matter takes on form. Here we have a fuller 
and more explicit case of that relation between doing and under¬ 
going of organism and environment whose product is an experi¬ 
ence. The rhythm peculiar to different relations between doing 
and undergoing is the source of the distribution and apportion¬ 
ment of elements that conduces to directness and unity of per¬ 
ception. Lack of proper relationship and distribution produces 
a confusion that blocks singleness of perception. Just relationship 
produces the experience by virtue of which a work of art both 
excites and composes. The doing stirs while, undergone conse¬ 
quences bring a phase of tranquillity. A thorough and related 
undergoing effects an accumulation of energy that is the source 
of further discharge in activity. The resulting perception is 
ordered and clear and at the same time emotionally toned. 

It is possible to exaggerate the quality of serenity in art. 
There is no art without the composure that corresponds to design 
and composition in the object. But there is also none without 
resistance, tension, and excitement; otherwise the calm induced 
is not one of fulfillment. In conception, things are distinguished 
that in perception and emotion belong together. The distinctions, 
which become antitheses in philosophic reflection, of sensuous 
and ideal, surface and content or meaning, of excitement and 
calm, do not exist in works of art; and they are not there merely be¬ 
cause conceptual oppositions have been overcome but because the 
work of art exists at a level of experience in which these distinc¬ 
tions of reflective thought have not arisen. From variety excitement 
may occur, but in mere variety there are no resistances to be 
overcome and brought to a pause. There is nothing more diverse 
than furniture scattered about a sidewalk waiting for the moving 
van. Yet order and serenity do not emerge when these things are 
forced together in the van. They must be distributed in relation 
to one another as in the furnishing of a room to compose a whole. 
Cooperation of distribution and unification bring about that move¬ 
ment of change which excites and the fulfillment which calms. 



THE NATURAL HISTORY OF FORM 161 

There is an old formula for beauty in nature and art: 
Unity in variety. Everything depends upon how the preposition 
“in” is understood. There may be many articles in a box, many 
figures in a single painting, many coins in one pocket, and many 
documents in a safe. The unity is extraneous and the many are 
unrelated. The significant point is that unity and manyness are 
always of this sort or approximate it when the unity of the 
object or scene is morphological and static. The formula has 
meaning only when its terms are understood to concern a rela¬ 
tion of energies. There is no fullness, no many parts, without 
distinctive differentiations. But they have esthetic quality, as in 
the richness of a musical phrase, only when distinctions depend 
upon reciprocal resistances. There is unity only when the re¬ 
sistances create a suspense that is resolved through cooperative 
interaction of the opposed energies. The “one” of the formula is 
the realization through interacting parts of their respective ener¬ 
gies. The “many” is the manifestation of the defined individualiza¬ 
tions due to opposed forces that finally sustain a balance. Thus 
the next theme is the organization of energies in a work of art. 
For the unity in variety that characterizes a work of art is dynamic. 



CHAPTER VIII 


THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


I T has been repeatedly intimated that there is a difference 
between the art product (statue, painting or whatever), and 
the work of art. The first is physical and potential; the latter is 
active and experienced. It is what the product does, its working. 
For nothing enters experience bald and unaccompanied, whether 
it be a seemingly formless happening, a theme intellectually sys¬ 
tematized, or an object elaborated with every loving care of 
united thought and emotion. Its very entrance is the beginning of 
a complex interaction; upon the nature of this interaction depends 
the character of the thing as finally experienced. When the struc¬ 
ture of the object is such that its force interacts happily (but 
not easily) with the energies that issue from the experience itself; 
when their mutual affinities and antagonisms work together to 
bring about a substance that develops cumulatively and surely 
(but not too steadily) toward a fulfilling of impulsions and ten¬ 
sions, then indeed there is a work of art. 

In the previous chapter, I emphasized the dependence of 
this final work upon the existence of rhythms in nature; as I 
pointed out, they are the conditions of form in experience and 
hence of expression. But an esthetic experience, the work of art 
in its actuality, is perception . Only as these rhythms, even if em¬ 
bodied in an outer object that is itself a product of art, become 
a rhythm in experience itself are they esthetic. And this rhythm 
in what is experienced is something quite different from intel¬ 
lectual recognition that there is rhythm in the external thing: 
as different as is the perceptual enjoyment of glowing harmonious 
colors from the mathematical equations that define them for a 
scientific inquirer. 

I begin by applying this consideration to get rid of a false 
notion of rhythm that has, somehow, seriously infected esthetic 

162 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


163 


theory. For the misconception springs from failure to take into 
account the fact that esthetic rhythm is a matter of perception 
and therefore includes whatever is contributed by the self in the 
active process of perceiving. And strangely enough the miscon¬ 
ception in question exists side by side with statements that esthetic 
experience is an affair of immediacy of perception. The notion 
I refer to identifies rhythm with regularity of recurrence amid 
changing elements. 

Before dealing directly with this conception, I want to 
point out its effect upon understanding art. The order of the 
elements of spatial objects as spatial and physical, that is apart 
from their entrance into that interaction which causes an experi¬ 
ence, is, comparatively at least, fixed. Aside from a slow process 
of weathering, the lines and planes of a statue stay the same, 
and so do the configurations and intervals of a building. From 
this fact is derived the conclusion that there are two kinds of fine 
arts, the spatial and the temporal, and that only the latter are 
marked by rhythm: the counterpart of this error being that only 
buildings and statues possess symmetry. The mistake would be 
serious if it affected only theory. In fact denial of rhythm to pic¬ 
tures and buildings obstructs perception of qualities that are 
absolutely indispensable in their esthetic effect. 

The identification of rhythm with literal recurrence, with 
regular return of identical elements, conceives of recurrence stati¬ 
cally or anatomically instead of functionally; for the latter inter¬ 
prets recurrence on the basis of furtherance, through the energy 
of the elements, of a complete and consummatory experience. 
Since a favorite illustration of those who hold the theory is the 
ticking of a clock, it may be called the tick-tock theory. Al¬ 
though it should be evident upon a moment’s reflection that if it 
were possible to experience a uniform series of tick-tocks, the 
effect would be either to put us to sleep or goad us to exaspera¬ 
tion, yet the conception of such regularity is taken as furnishing 
the ground-plan, which is then supposed to be complicated by 
the superimposition of a number of other rhythms, each equally 
regular in itself. Of. course, it may be possible to analyze mathe¬ 
matically an actually experienced rhythm into a combination of 
a basic regularity overlaid with a number of minor uniform repe¬ 
titions. But the result is only a mechanical approximation to any 



164 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


vita! or expressive rhythm. It is similar to the outcome of attempts 
to construct estheticaUy satisfactory curved lines (like those of a 
Greek vase) out of the combination of a number of curves, each 
of which is constructed according to rigid mathematical calcula¬ 
tion. 

An investigator undertook with the aid of a recording in¬ 
strument an inquiry into the voices of singers. It was found that 
the voices of accomplished artists, those rated as superior, were 
registered in lines slightly above or slightly below the lines which 
stood for exact pitch, while singers still in training were much 
more likely to produce sounds that coincided exactly with the 
registers of exact intervals. The investigator remarked that the 
artists always “took liberties” with music. In fact these “liberties” 
mark the difference between mechanical or purely objective con¬ 
struction and artistic production. For rhythm involves constant 
variation. In the definition that was given of rhythm as ordered 
variation of manifestation of energy, variation is not only as im¬ 
portant as order, but it is an indispensable coefficient of esthetic 
order. The greater the variation, the more interesting the effect, 
provided order is maintained—a fact that proves that the or¬ 
der in question is not to be stated in terms of objective regu¬ 
larities but requires another principle for its interpretation. This 
principle, once more, is that of cumulative progression toward the 
fulfillment of an experience in terms of the integrity of the experi¬ 
ence itself—something not to be measured in external terms, 
though not attainable without the use of external materials, ob¬ 
served or imagined. 

I may illustrate by a somewhat arbitrarily selected portion 
of verse, purposely taking that which, although interesting, is 
not of the highest order. Some lines from Wordsworth's “Pre¬ 
lude” will serve the purpose: 

“... the wind and sleety rain, 

And all the business of the elements, 

The single sheep, and the one blasted tree. 

And the bleak music from that old stone wall, 

The noise of wood and water, and the mist 
That on the line of each of these two roads 
Advanced in such indisputable shapes ” 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


165 


There is always something stupid about turning poetry into 
a prose that is supposed to explain the meaning of the poetry. 
But my purpose here in giving a prosaic analysis is not to explain 
the lines but to enforce a point of theory. So we notice that, in 
the first place, there is not a word that repeats the kind of fixed 
significance that might be set forth in a dictionary. The meaning 
of "wind, rain, sheep, tree, stone wall, mist” is a function of the 
whole situation expressed, and hence is a variable of that situation 
and not an external constant. The same thing is true of the adjec¬ 
tives: sleety, single, blasted, bleak, indisputable. Their sense is 
determined by the individual experience of desolation that is 
building; each contributes a furtherance of its realization, while 
each in turn is qualified by the experience into the construction 
of which it enters as an energizing factor. Then there is the varia¬ 
tion in objects, some relatively motionless set over against those 
in motion; things seen and things heard, rain and wind; wall and 
music; tree and noise. Then there is the relatively slow pace as 
long as objects dominate, changing to an accelerated pace with 
events, with "the noise of wood and water,” culminating in the 
push of the relentlessly advancing mist. It is this variation affect¬ 
ing every detail that makes the difference between such verses and 
a see-saw couplet. Yet "order” is maintained, not that indeed of 
repetition in substance or in form, but actively, since each element 
carries forward the building up of an integrally experienced situa¬ 
tion, building it up without waste, and without incongruities that 
clash and destroy. Order, for esthetic purposes, is defined and 
measured by functional and operative traits. 

Contrast these lines with, say, some gospel hymn from 
whose lilt and swing thousands have obtained a rudimentary 
esthetic satisfaction. The relatively external and physical char¬ 
acter of the latter is manifest in the tendency to respond with a 
physical keeping of time; the poverty of the sentiment is due to 
the comparative uniformity of both matter and its treatment. 
Even in a ballad, refrains do not have in experience the uni¬ 
formity they have in isolation. For as they enter into chang¬ 
ing contexts they have a varying effect that carries on a cumula¬ 
tive conservation. It is possible for an artist to employ something 
that is externally sheer repetition to convey a sense of inexorable 
fate. But the effect depends upon a summation that is more than 



166 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


quantitative addition. Thus in music a repeated phrase, perhaps 
the one thrown at us at the beginning of a symphony, gains force 
because the new contexts in which it is found, color it and give 
it a new value, even if only that of a more insistent, precise 
and cumulative enunciation of a theme. 

There is, of course, no rhythm without recurrence. But 
the reflective analysis of physical science is substituted for the 
experience of art when recurrence is interpreted as literal repe¬ 
tition, whether of material or exact interval. Mechanical recur¬ 
rence is that of material units. Esthetic recurrence is that of 
relationships that sum up and carry forward. Recurring units as 
such call attention to themselves as isolated parts, and thus away 
from the whole. Hence they lessen esthetic effect. Recurring rela¬ 
tionships serve to define and delimit parts, giving them individu¬ 
ality of their own. But they also connect; the individual entities 
they mark off demand, because of the relations, association and 
interaction with other individuals. Thus the parts vitally serve in 
the construction of an expanded whole. 

The beat of the drum of the savage has also been held 
up as the model of rhythm, so that the “tick-tock” theory be¬ 
comes the “tom-tom” theory. Here, too, it is held that a simple, 
rather monotonous, repetition of beats is the standard, and that 
it is varied by the addition of other rhythms each of which is 
itself uniform, while piquancy is introduced by the use of aryth- 
mic change. Unfortunately for the supposed objective basis of 
the theory, tom-tom beats do not occur alone, but as factors 
in a much more complex whole of varied singing and dancing. 
And instead of repetition there is a development, a working up 
to greater pitches of excitement, perhaps a frenzy, that has begun 
with relative slow and calm movements. What is even more im¬ 
portant, the history of music shows that in fact the primitive 
rhythms, like those of the African negro, are more subtly varied, 
less uniform, than those of the music of civilized folk, just as 
those of northern negroes in the United States are usually more 
conventionalized than those of the south. The exigencies of part- 
music and the potentialities of harmony have operated to reduce 
to greater uniformity that phase of rhythm that consists in direct 
variations of intensity, while the theory in question demands a 
reverse movement. 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 167 

The live creature demands order in his living but he also 
demands novelty. Confusion is displeasing but so is ennui. The 
“touch of disorder” that lends charm to a regular scene is dis¬ 
orderly only from some external standard. From the standpoint 
of actual experience it adds emphasis, distinction, as long as it 
does not prevent a cumulative carrying forward from one part 
to another. If it were experienced as disorder it would produce 
an unresolved clash and be displeasing. A temporary clash, on 
the other hand, may be the factor of resistance that summons up 
energy to proceed the more actively and triumphantly. Only per¬ 
sons who have been spoiled in early life like things always soft; 
persons of vigor who prefer to live and who are not contented 
with subsisting find the too easy repulsive. The difficult becomes 
objectionable only when instead of challenging energy it over¬ 
whelms and blocks it. Some esthetic products have an immediate 
vogue; they are the “best sellers” of their day. They are “easy” 
and thus make a quick appeal; their popularity calls out imita¬ 
tors, and they set the fashion in plays or novels or songs for a 
time. But their very ready assimilation into experience exhausts 
them quickly; no new stimulus is derived from them. They have 
their day—and only a day. 

Compare a picture by, say, Whistler with one by Renoir. 
In the former—in most cases—there will be found considerable 
stretches of color as nearly uniform as may be. Rhythms, with 
their necessary factors of contrast, are constituted only by the 
opposition of large blocks. On only a square inch of a painting 
by Renoir there will be found no two contiguous lines of exactly 
the same quality. We may not be conscious of this fact as we 
look at the picture, but we are conscious of its effect. It con¬ 
tributes to the immediate richness of the whole, and it provides 
the conditions for new stimulation of new responses upon every 
subsequent approach. This element of continual variation—pro¬ 
vided dynamic relations of reenforcement, and conservation are 
met—is what makes a picture or any work of art wear. 

What is true in the large is true in the small. Repetition 
of uniform units at uniform intervals is not only not rhythmic but 
is opposed to the experience of rhythm. A checkerboard effect 
is more pleasing than a large blank space or than one filled with 
lines that wander at random and that instead of defining figures 



168 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


interfere with the carrying forward of vision. For experience 
of the checkered arrangement is not so regular as is the object 
taken physically and geometrically. As the eye moves it takes in 
new and reenforcing surfaces, and careful observation will show 
that new patterns are almost automatically constructed. The 
squares run now vertically, now horizontally, now in one diagonal, 
now in the other; and the smaller squares construct not only 
larger squares but also rectangles and figures having stair-like 
outlines. The organic demand for variety is such that it is en¬ 
forced in experience, even without much external occasion. Even 
the tick-tock of the clock as it is heard varies, because what is 
heard is an interaction of the physical event with changing pul¬ 
sations of organic response. The often made comparison of music 
and architecture rests upon the fact that these arts, more directly 
than others, exemplify organic recurrences effected by cumula¬ 
tive relationships rather than by repetition of units. The esthetic 
vulgarity of many of our edifices, especially of those that line 
American city streets, is due to the monotony caused by regular 
repetition of forms, uniformly spaced, the architect depending 
only upon adventitious ornamentation for variety. An even more 
striking example is found in our terrible civil-war monuments 
and much of our municipal statuary. 

I have said that the organism craves variety as well as 
order. The statement, however, is too weak for it sets forth a 
secondary property rather than the primary fact. The process of 
organic life is variation. In words which William James often 
quoted, it marks an instance of “ever, not quite.” Craving as such 
arises only when this natural tendency is blocked by untoward 
circumstance, by the monotony of excess poverty or excess luxury. 
Every movement of experience in completing itself recurs to its 
beginning, since it is a satisfaction of the prompting initial need. 
But the recurrence is with a difference; it is charged with all the 
differences the journey out and away from the beginning has 
made. For random samples, take the return after many years 
to childhood’s home; the proposition that is proved through a 
course of reasoning and the proposition as first enunciated; the 
meeting with an old friend after separation; the recurrence of a 
phrase in music; of a refrain in poetry. 

Demand for variety is the manifestation of the fact that 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 169 

being alive we seek to live, until we are cowed by fear or dulled 
by routine. The need of life itself pushes us out into the un¬ 
known. This is the abiding truth of romance. It may degenerate 
into formless indulgence in motion and excitement for its own 
sake, and be expressed in pseudo-romanticism. But vocal classi¬ 
cism, that which preaches rather than enacts as does that which 
genuinely becomes classic, is always based on fear of life and 
retraction from its exigencies and challenges. The romantic 
when ordered by appropriate rhythm becomes classic, when¬ 
ever the adventure undertaken is of scope sufficient to test as 
well as evoke the energies of men* The “Iliad” and “Odyssey” 
are perennial witnesses. Rhythm is rationality among qualities. 
The hold of the lowest order of rhythm upon the uncultivated 
shows that some order is desired in the stir of existence. And even 
the equations of mathematicians are evidence that variation is 
desired in the midst of maximum repetition, since they express 
equivalences, not exact identities. 

Esthetic recurrence in short is vital, physiological, func¬ 
tional. Relationships rather than elements recur, and they recur 
in differing contexts and with different consequences so that each 
recurrence is novel as well as a reminder. In satisfying an aroused 
expectancy, it also institutes a new longing, incites a fresh curi¬ 
osity, establishes a changed suspense. The completeness of the 
integration of these two offices, opposed as they are in abstract 
conception, by the same means instead of by using one device to 
arouse energy and another to bring it to rest, measures artistry 
of production and perception. A well-conducted scientific inquiry 
discovers as it tests, and proves as it explores; it does so in vir¬ 
tue of a method which combines both functions. And conversa¬ 
tion, drama, novel, and architectural construction, if there is an 
ordered experience, reach a stage that at once records and sums 
up the value of what precedes, and evokes and prophesies what is 
to come. Every closure is an awakening, and every awakening 
settles something. This state of affairs defines organization of 
energy. 

Insistence upon variation in rhythm may seem to be a 
laboring of the obvious. My excuse is not only that influential 
theories have slighted this property, but that there is a tendency 
to limit rhythm to some one phase of an art product: for instance. 



170 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


to tempo in music, lines in painting, meter in poetry; to flattened 
or smooth curves in sculpture. Such limitation always tends in 
the direction of what Bosanquet called “easy beauty,” and when 
carried through logically, whether in theory or practice, results 
In some matter being left without form and some form being 
arbitrarily imposed upon matter. 

In the Spring and Birth of Venus of Botticelli, the charm of 
arabesques and line in rhythmic patterns is easily felt. Its charm 
may easily seduce a spectator into making this phase of rhythm, 
more unconsciously than explicitly, a standard of judgment for 
experience of other paintings. It will then result in an overesti¬ 
mation of Botticelli in comparison with other painters. This in 
itself is a minor matter, since it is better to be sensitive to one 
aspect of form than to judge pictures merely as illustrations. 
What is more important is that it tends to create insensitiveness 
to ways of achieving rhythms that are at once more solid and 
more subtle: such as relations of planes, of masses, of colors not 
sharply delineated. Again, the adequacy of Greek sculpture as a 
means of expressing the human figure through the use of flat¬ 
tened or rounded planes is worth the admiration called forth by 
the statues of Pheidias. But it is not well when this particular 
rhythmic mode is set up as the sole standard. Then perception 
is obscured of what is characteristic of the best in Egyptian sculp¬ 
ture, obtained by relation of larger masses, of negro sculp¬ 
ture with its sharp angularities, of works like Epstein’s that de¬ 
pend so largely upon rhythms of light obtained by continually 
broken surfaces. 

The same instances exemplify the separation of substance 
and form that results when rhythm is limited to variation and 
recurrence in a single feature. Familiar ideas, standardized moral 
counsels, themes of conventional romance like the love of a Darby 
for some Joan, the established charm of objects such as rose and 
lily, are made more pleasing when dothed in rhyme and punctu¬ 
ated with metrical swing. But in such cases we are, at the end, 
only reminded in an agreeable way, occasioning a temporary 
titillation of pleasure, of what we have already experienced. When 
all materials are interpenetrated by rhythm, the theme or “sub¬ 
ject” is transformed into a new subject-matter. There is that 
sudden magic which gives us the sense of an inner revelation 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


171 


brought to us about something we had supposed to be known 
through and through. In short, the reciprocal interpretation of 
parts and whole, which we have seen to constitute an object a 
work of art, is effected when all the constituents of the work, 
whether picture, drama, poem or building, stand in rhythmic 
connection with all other members of the same kind—line with 
line, color with color, space with space, illumination with light 
and shade in a painting—and all of these distinctive factors re¬ 
enforce one another as variations that build up an integrated 
complex experience. It would be pedantic as weU as ungenerous 
to deny all esthetic quality to an object that is marked in some 
one respect by rhythms that consolidate and organize the ener¬ 
gies involved in having an experience. But the objective measure 
of greatness is precisely the variety and scope of factors which, in 
being rhythmic each to each, still cumulatively conserve and 
promote one another in building up the actual experience. 

An attempt has been made to support the distinction be¬ 
tween substance and form in works of art by contrasting “fine¬ 
ness” with “greatness.” Art is fine, it is said, when form is per¬ 
fected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight 
of the subject-matter dealt with, even though the manner of 
dealing with it is less fine. The novels of Jane Austen and of Sir 
Walter Scott have been used to illustrate the alleged distinction. 
I cannot find that it is valid. // the novels of Scott are greater 
in scope and amplitude than those of Miss Austen, although less 
fine, it is because, while no one phase of the means employed is 
carried through as perfectly as in the one medium in which Jane 
Austen excels, there is a wider range of subject-matter in which 
some degree of form is attained. It is not a question of form versus 
subject-matter but of the number of kinds of co-working formal 
relationships. A clear pool, a gem, a miniature, an illuminated 
manuscript, a short story have their own perfection, each after its 
kind. The single quality that dominates in each may be carried 
through more adequately than is any single system of relations 
in objects of greater scope and complexity. But the multiplica¬ 
tion of. effects in the latter, when they conduce to an unified 
experience, makes the latter “greater.” 

When it is a matter of technology, domestic economy, or 
social polity, we do not have to be told that rationality, intelligi- 



172 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


bility, is measured by orderly co-adaptation of means moving 
toward a common end. Absurdity is mutual nullification carried 
to its completion, becoming esthetic or “funny” when success¬ 
fully executed. We are aware, in a corresponding way, that a 
man’s practical ability is determined by his capacity to mobilize 
a variety of means and measures to accomplish a large result with 
the maximum of economy; and that economy becomes esthetically 
unpleasant when k is forced upon attention as a separate factor, 
while scope of means is magnificent, not silly display, when there 
is a corresponding extensive result. So too, we are aware that 
thinking consists in ordering a variety of meanings so that they 
move to a conclusion that all support and in which all are 
summed up and conserved. What we perhaps are less cognizant 
of is that this organization of energies to move cumulatively to a 
terminal whole in which the values of all means and media are in¬ 
corporated is the essence of fine art. 

In the practice and reasoning of ordinary life, organization 
is less direct, and the sense of the conclusion or consummation 
comes, comparatively at least, only at the end, instead of being 
carried at every stage. This postponement of the sense of com¬ 
pletion, this lack of the presence of continuous perfecting, reacts, 
of course, to reduce means used to the state of mere means. 
They are indispensable antecedent conditions, but they are not 
intrinsic constituents of the end. In such cases, in other words, 
organization of energies is piecemeal, one replacing another, while 
in the artistic process it is cumulating and conserving. And thus 
we are brought again to rhythm. For whenever each step forward 
is at the same time a summing up and fulfillment of what precedes, 
and every consummation carries expectation tensely forward, 
there is rhythm. 

In ordinary life, much of our pressing forward is impelled 
by outside necessities, instead of an onward motion like that of 
waves of the sea. Similarly, much of our resting is recuperation 
from exhaustion; it, too, is compelled by something external. In 
rhythmic ordering, every close and pause, like the rest in music, 
connects as well as delimits and individualizes. A pause in music 
is not a blank, but is a rhythmic silence that punctuates what is 
done while at the same time it conveys an impulsion forward, 
instead of arresting at the point which it defines. In look- 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


173 


ing at a picture or reading a poem or drama, we sometimes take 
the same feature in its defining and closing quality, sometimes in 
its transitive office. Normally, the way we take it depends upon 
the direction of our interest at that particular point in our experi¬ 
ence. But there are art-products in which an element insists upon 
being taken in only one way. Then there is the kind of restriction 
that is found in painting by the exaggeration of line in the Flor¬ 
entine school; of light in Leonardo, and in Raphael under the in¬ 
fluence of Leonardo; of atmosphere in the thoroughgoing impres¬ 
sionists. To achieve an exact balance of mergings that carry for¬ 
ward and pauses that accentuate and define is extremely difficult, 
and we can derive genuine esthetic satisfaction from objects in 
which it is not accomplished. But organization of energy is none 
the less partial in such cases. 

The active as distinct from morphological character of the 
rhythm of acts and undergoings, of defining rests and forward im¬ 
pulsions, is made clear in art by the fact that the artist uses that 
which is usually found ugly to get esthetic effect; colors that 
dash, sounds that are discordant, cacophonies in poetry, seem¬ 
ingly dark and obscure places or even sheer blanks—as in Matisse 
—in painting. It is the way the thing is related that counts. The 
familiar instance of Shakespeare’s employing the comic in the 
midst of tragedy is in point. It does more than relieve strain on 
the part of the spectator. It has a more intrinsic office in that it 
punctuates tragic quality. Any product whose quality is not of 
the very “easy” sort exhibits dislocations and dissociations of 
what is usually connected. The distortion found in paintings serves 
the need of some particular rhythm. But it does more. It brings 
to definite perception values that are concealed in ordinary ex¬ 
perience because of habituation. Ordinary prepossession must be 
broken through if the degree of energy required for an esthetic 
experience is to be evoked. 

Unfortunately, in writing upon esthetic theory one is com¬ 
pelled to speak in generalized terms because it is impossible to 
present the work in which the material exists in its individualized 
form. But I shall engage in a schematic illustration drawn from 
an actual painting.* In looking at this particular object I have in 

* Barnes* “The Art in Painting,” “French Primitives and Their Forms," 
and “The Art of Henri Matisse,” give many detailed analyses of pictures. 



174 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


mind, attention is first caught by the objects in which masses 
point upward: the first impression is that of movement from 
below to above. This statement does not mean that the spectator 
is explicitly conscious of vertically direct rhythms, but that, if 
he stops to analyze, he finds that the first and dominant impres¬ 
sion is determined by patterns so constituted by rhythms. Mean¬ 
time the eye is also moving across the picture though the interest 
remains in patterns that rise. Then there is a halt, an arrest, a 
punctuating pause as vision comes in the opposite lower corner 
upon a definite mass that instead of fitting into the vertical pat¬ 
terns transfers attention to the weight of horizontally disposed 
masses. V/ere the picture badly composed, the variation would 
operate as a disturbing interruption, a break in experience instead 
of as a re-direction of interest and attention, thus expanding the 
significance of the object. As it is, the close of one phase of order 
gives a new set to expectancy and this is fulfilled as vision travels 
back, by a series of colored areas dominantly horizontal in char¬ 
acter. Then, as that phase of perception completes itself, atten¬ 
tion is drawn to the ordered variation in color characteristic of 
these masses. Then as attention is redirected to the vertical pat¬ 
terns—at the point from which we set out—we miss the design 
constituted by color variation and find attention directed toward 
spatial intervals determined by a series of receding and inter¬ 
twined planes. The impression of depth, implicit of course, in 
perception from the first is made explicit by this particular rhyth¬ 
mic order. 

In the building up of this pictorial perception, four kinds 
of organic energy, merged in the original total impression, have 
been called into special intensity of action, and yet there has been 
no break in experience. Nor does the story cease at this point. 
As one becomes more aware of the factors that constitute depth 
in space, a scene in the far distance stands out. This scene, con¬ 
sidering its indicated distance, is characterized by marked lumi¬ 
nosity. Then vision is set to perceiving more definitely the rhythms 
of luminosity that give enhanced value to the picture as a whole. 
Here are some five systems of rhythm. Each of these, if further 
examined, would disclose minor rhythms within it. Each rhythm, 
major or minor, interacts with all the others to engage different 
systems of organic energy. But they also have to interact with 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


175 


one another in such ways that energy is consistently organized as 
well as called forth. Sometimes in an object of a new kind, one 
meets with a surprise that is disconcerting. This happens ia 
objects so eccentric as to be of little worth; it also happens, upon 
their first appearance, with works of high esthetic value. It takes 
time to discern whether the shock is caused by inherent breaks 
in the organization of the object, or by lack of preparation in 
the perceiver. 

What has been said may seem to exaggerate the temporal 
aspect of perception. I have, without doubt, stretched out ele¬ 
ments that are usually more or less telescoped. But in no case 
can there be perception of an object except in a process develop¬ 
ing in time. Mere excitations, yes; but not an object as perceived, 
instead of just recognized as one of a familiar kind. If our view 
of the world consisted of a succession of momentary glimpses, it 
would be no view of the world nor of anything in it. If the roar 
and the rushing stream of Niagara were limited to an instantane¬ 
ous noise and peep, there would not be perceived the sound or 
sight of any object, much less of the particular object called 
Niagara Falls. It would not be grasped even as a noise. Nor 
would mere isolated continuation of the external noise beating 
on the ear effect anything except increased confusion. Nothing 
is perceived except when different senses work in relation with 
one another except when the energy of one “center” is communi¬ 
cated to others, and then new modes of motor responses are in¬ 
cited which in turn stir up new sensory activities. Unless these 
various sensory-motor energies are coordinated with one another 
there is no perceived scene or object. But equally there is none 
when—by a condition impossible to fulfill in fact—a single sense 
alone is operative. If the eye is the organ primarily active, then 
the color quality is affected by qualities of other senses overtly 
active in earlier experiences. In this way it is affected with a his¬ 
tory; there is an object with a past. And the impulsion of the 
motor elements which are involved effects an extension into the 
future, since it gets ready for what is to come and in a way pre¬ 
dicts what is to happen. 

The denial of rhythm to pictures, edifices, and statues, or 
the assertion that it is found in them only metaphorically, rests 
upon ignorance of the inherent nature of every perception. Of 



176 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


course there are recognitions that are virtually instantaneous. 
But these occur only when, through a sequence of past experi¬ 
ences, the self has become expert in certain directions, be it simply 
in seeing at a glance that a certain object is a table or that a 
painting is by a particular artist, say Manet. Because present 
perception utilizes an organization of energies worked out serially 
in the past is no reason for eliminating temporal quality from per¬ 
ception. And in any case, if the perception is esthetic, an instan¬ 
taneous identification is only its beginning. There is no inherent 
esthetic value in identifying a picture as such and such. The 
identification may arouse attention and lead to dwelling upon 
the painting in such a way that parts and relations are called 
out to compose a whole. 

We are hardly conscious of anything metaphorical when 
we say of one picture or of a story that it is dead, and of another 
that it has life. To explain just what we mean when we say this, 
is not easy. Yet the consciousness that one thing is limp, that 
another has the heavy inertness of inanimate things, while an¬ 
other seems to move from within, arises spontaneously. There 
must be something in the object that instigates it. Now that which 
marks off the living from the dead is not bustle and ado, nor does 
a picture literally move. The living being is characterized by hav¬ 
ing a past and a present; having them as possessions of the pres¬ 
ent, not just externally. And I suggest that it is precisely when 
we get from an art product the feeling of dealing with a 
career, a history, perceived at a particular point of its develop¬ 
ment, that we have the impression of life. That which is dead does 
not extend into the past nor arouse any interest in what is to 
come. 

The common element in all the arts, technological and use¬ 
ful, is organization of energy as means for producing a result. 
In products that strike us as merely useful, our only concern 
is with something beyond the thing, and if we are not interested 
in that ulterior product then we are indifferent to the object itself. 
It may be passed over without our really seeing it or may be 
idly inspected as we look casually at any curiosity we are told 
is remarkable. In the esthetic object the object operates—as of 
course one having an external use may also do—to pull together 
energies that have been separately occupied in dealing with many 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


177 


different things on different occasions, and to give them that par¬ 
ticular rhythmic organization that we have called (when think¬ 
ing of the effect and not of the mode of its effectuation), clarifica¬ 
tion, intensification, concentration. Energies that remain in a 
potential state with respect to one another, however actual of 
themselves, evoke and reenforce one another directly for the sake 
of the experience that results. 

What is true of original production is true of appreciative 
perception. We speak of perception and its object. But percep¬ 
tion and its object are built up and completed in one and the same 
continuing operation. WTiat is called the object, the cloud, river, 
garment, has imputed to it an existence independent of an actual 
experience; still more is this true of the carbon molecule, the 
hydrogen ion, the entities of science generally. But the object of— 
or better «*—]perception is not one of a kind in general, a sample 
of a cloud or river, but is this individual thing existing here and 
now with all the unrepeatable particularities that accompany and 
mark such existences. In its capacity of object-of-perception, it 
exists in exactly the same interaction with a living creature that 
constitutes the activity of perceiving. Now under the pressure of 
external circumstances or because of internal laxity, objects of 
most of our ordinary perception lack completeness. They are cut 
short when there is recognition; that is to say when the object is 
identified as one of a kind, or of a species within the kind. For 
such recognition suffices to enable us to employ the object for cus¬ 
tomary purposes. It is enough to know that those objects are 
rain-clouds to induce us to carry an umbrella. The full perceptual 
realization of just the individual clouds they are might even get 
in the way of utilizing them as an index of a specific, a limited, 
kind of conduct. Esthetic perception, on the other hand, is a name 
for a full perception and its correlative, an object or event Such 
a perception is accompanied by, or rather consists in, a release 
of energy in its purest form; which, as we have seen, is one 
that is organized and so rhythmic. 

We do not need to feel, therefore, that we are speaking 
metaphorically nor apologize for animism when we speak of a 
painting as alive, and its figures, as well as architectural and 
sculptural forms, as manifesting movement. The “Entombment” 
of Titian does more than suggest the carrying of depressed weight; 



178 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


it conveys or expresses it. The ballet girls of Degas are actually 
on tiptoe to dance; the children in Renoir’s paintings are intent 
upon their reading or sewing. In Constable, verdure is moist; 
and in Courbet a glen drips and rocks shine with cool wetness. 
When fishes are not darting or lazily balancing themselves, when 
clouds are not floating or scudding, when trees are not reflect¬ 
ing light, they do not evoke the energy appropriate to realization 
of the full energy of the object. If the perception is then eked out 
by reminiscences or by sentimental associations derived from 
literature—as is usually the case in paintings popularly regarded 
as poetic—a simulated esthetic experience occurs. 

Paintings that seem dead in whole or part are those in 
which intervals merely arrest, instead of also carrying forward. 
They are “holes,” blanks. What we call dead spots are, from the 
side of the percipient, the things that enforce a partial or frus¬ 
trated organization of outgoing energy. There are works of art 
that merely excite, in which activity is aroused without the com¬ 
posure of satisfaction, without fulfillment within the terms of the 
medium. Energy is left without organization. Dramas are then 
melodramatic; paintings of nudes are pornographic; the fiction 
that is read leaves us discontented with the world in which we 
are, alas, compelled to live without the opportunity for the romantic 
adventure and high heroism suggested by the story-book. In those 
novels, in which characters are the puppets of their authors, our 
revulsion comes from the fact that life is pretended, not enacted. 
The simulation of life by a show of animation and vivacity leaves 
us with the same irritation of incompletion that follows con¬ 
tinued idle chatter. 

I have probably seemed to some to have exaggerated the 
importance of rhythm at the expense of symmetry. As far as 
explicit words are concerned, I have done so. But only with re¬ 
spect to words. For the idea of organized energy means that 
rhythm and balance cannot be separated, although they may be 
distinguished by thought. Putting it briefly and schematically, 
when attention dwells especially upon the traits and aspects in 
which completed organization is displayed, we are especially 
aware of symmetry, the measuring of one thing in relation to 
another. Symmetry and rhythm are the same thing felt with 
the difference of emphasis that is due to attentive interest. When 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 


179 


intervals that define rest and relative fulfillment are the traits 
that especially characterize perception, we are aware of sym¬ 
metry. When we are concerned with movement, with comings 
and goings rather than arrivals, rhythm stands out. But in every 
case, symmetry, since it is the equilibrium of counteracting 
energies, involves rhythm, while rhythm occurs only when move¬ 
ment is spaced by places of rest, and hence involves measure. 

Of course at times, the two fall apart in an art product. 
But this fact signifies that it is not esthetically complete, that 
on the one hand there are holes, dead spots, and, on the other, 
unmotivated and unresolved excitations. In reflective experience 
as such, in investigation called forth by problematic situations, 
there is a rhythm of seeking and finding, of reaching out for a 
tenable conclusion and coming to what is at least a tentative one. 
But, as a rule, these phases are too incidental to affect the process 
with conspicuous esthetic quality. When they become emphatic 
and are unified with subject-matter, there is the same kind of 
consciousness that there is in the presence of any artistic con¬ 
struction. In merely simulated and academic art, on the other 
hand, balance does not coincide with subject-matter but is an 
arbitrary pose, which in its isolation from movement becomes in 
time highly wearisome. 

The connection of intensity and extensity and of both with 
tension is not a verbal matter. There is no rhythm save where 
there is alternation of compressions and releases. Resistance pre¬ 
vents immediate discharge and accumulates tension that renders 
energy intense. Its release from this state of detention takes neces¬ 
sarily the form of a sequential spreading out. In a picture, cold 
and warm colors, complementary colors, light and shade, up and 
down, back and forwards, right and left are, schematically speak¬ 
ing, the means by which the kind of opposition is brought about 
in a picture that results in balance. In early paintings, this 
symmetry is effected mainly by means of oppositions in positions 
to right and left, or by an obvious diagonal arrangement. Now 
there is energy of position and, hence, in even these pictures, 
symmetry is not merely spatial. But it is weak, as in the silhouette 
pictures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when the im¬ 
portant figure is placed in the exact center, and figures almost 
Identical with one another are placed in nearly exact lateral corre- 



180 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


spondence. Later, pyramidal forms are depended upon. Such ar¬ 
rangements owe much of their force to factors outside the 
picture. Stability of objects is accomplished by reminding us of 
familiar modes securing equilibrium. Thus the effect of sym¬ 
metry in the picture is associational rather than intrinsic. The 
tendency in painting has been to the development of relations 
such that balance cannot be topographically indicated by selection 
of particular figures but is a function of the whole picture. The 
“center” of the picture is not spatial but is the focus of interacting 
forces. 

The definition of symmetry in static terms is the exact 
correspondent of the error by which rhythm is conceived to be 
recurrence of elements. Balance is balancing, a matter of distribu¬ 
tion of weights with respect to the way they act upon one another. 
The two pans of the scales balance when their push and pull on 
each other is adjusted. And scales exist in actuality (instead of 
potentially) only when their pans are operating antagonistically 
to each other with reference to reaching an equilibrium. Since 
esthetic objects depend upon a progressively enacted experience, 
the final measure of balance or symmetry is the capacity of the 
whole to hold together within itself the greatest variety and scope 
of opposed elements. 

The connection of balance with stress of weights is in¬ 
herent. Work in any sphere is performed only by the interworking 
of opposed forces—as by the antagonistic systems of the muscular 
frame. Hence everything depends in a work of art upon the scale 
attempted—that is the reason it is but a step from the sublime 
to the ridiculous. There is no such thing as a force strong or 
weak, great or petty, in itself. Miniatures and quatrains have 
their own perfection, and mere bigness is offensive in its empty 
pretentiousness. To say that one part of a painting, drama, or 
novel is too weak, means that some related part is too strong— 
and vice-versa. Absolutely speaking, nothing is strong or weak; 
it is the way it works and is worked on. It is sometimes surprising 
in an architectural vista to see how a low building rightly placed 
will pull together surrounding high buildings instead of being 
annihilated by them. 

The commonest fault in works having some claim to be 
called works of art is the effort to get strength by exaggeration 



181 


THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 

of some one element. At first, as with temporary best-sellers in 
any line, there is an immediate response. But such works do not 
wear. As time passes it becomes every day more evident that what 
had been taken to be strength signifies weakness on the part of 
counterbalancing factors. No sensuous charm, however great in 
amount, is cloying if it is counteracted in relation to other factors. 
But in isolation sugariness is one of the most quickly exhausted 
qualities. The “he-man ’ 1 style in literature soon wearies because 
it is evident (even if only subconsciously) that, in spite of violent 
movement, no real strength Is displayed, the counteracting 
energies being only pasteboard and plaster figures. The seeming 
strength of one element is at the expense of weakness in other 
elements. Even the sensationalism of a novel or stage-play refers 
only to a lack of relations which affects the quality of the whole, 
not any one incident in itself. A critic has observed of O’Neill’s 
plays that they suffer from lack of retardations; everything moves 
too quickly and hence too easily, and the result is an overcrowd- 
ing. Painters at work are obliged to work here and there, not all 
over the picture at once. And they are aware of the necessity of 
“keeping down” the part they are at work upon at any particular 
time. Every writer has to solve the same problem. Unless it is 
solved, other parts are not “kept up.” In most cases the esthetic 
objection to doses of morals and of economic or political propa¬ 
ganda in works of art will be found upon analysis to reside in the 
overweighing of certain values at the expense of others until, 
except for those in a similar state of one-sided enthusiasm, weari¬ 
ness rather than refreshment sets in. 

The manifestation of a single form of energy in isolation 
results in uncoordinated movements, the human organism being, 
in fact, complex, and hence requiring adjustment of many varied 
factors. There is a great difference between violence and intensity 
of action. Watch young children who have the intention of acting 
in a play, and a succession of unrelated movements will be ob¬ 
served. They gesticulate, tumble and roll, each pretty much on 
his own account, with little reference to what others are doing. 
The acts of even the same child have little sequence. Such a case 
exemplifies, by way of contrast, the artistic relation between in¬ 
tensity and extension. Because energy is not restrained by other 
elements that are at once antagonistic and cooperative, action 



182 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

proceeds by jerks and spasms. There is discontinuity. Where 
energy is rendered tense by reciprocal oppositions, it unfolds in 
ordered extension. The contrast that is extreme in the case of a 
well-constructed and well-executed play set over against a childish 
scramble is found in lesser measure in all cases of contrasting 
esthetic value. Paintings, buildings, poems, novels, all have differ¬ 
ent degrees of volume—not to be confused with bulk. They are 
esthetically thick and thin, solid and crumbling, well-knit and 
loose-j‘ointed. This property of extension, of related variety, is 
the kinetic phase which marks the release of energies that are 
restrained in ordered intervals of rest. But once more the order 
of these intervals (that constitute the symmetry of the work) is 
not regulated on the basis of units of time or space. When it is 
so determined, the effect is mechanical, like the seesaw of a jin¬ 
gling rhyme. In an art product, intervals are regular whenever 
they are determined by mutual reenforcement of parts with re¬ 
spect to the effect of unity and totality. This is what is meant by 
calling symmetry dynamic and functional. 

In seeing a picture or an edifice, there is the same com¬ 
pression from accumulation in time that there is in hearing music, 
reading a poem or novel, and seeing a drama enacted. No work 
of art can be instantaneously perceived because there is then no 
opportunity for conservation and increase of tension, and hence 
none for that release and unfolding which give volume to a work 
of art. In most intellectual work, in all save those flashes that are 
distinctly esthetic, we have to go backwards; we have consciously 
to retrace previous steps and to recall distinctly particular facts 
and ideas. Getting ahead in thought is dependent upon these 
conscious excursions of memory into the past. But only when 
esthetic perception is interrupted (whether by lapse on the part 
of artist or perceiver) are we compelled to turn back, say in 
seeing a play on the stage, to ask ourselves what went before in 
order to get the thread of movement.. What is retained from the 
past is embedded within what is now perceived and so embedded 
that, by its compression there, it forces the mind to stretch for¬ 
ward to what is coming. The more there is compressed from the 
continuous series of prior perceptions, the richer the present per¬ 
ception and the more intense the forward impulsion. Because of 
the depth of concentration, the release of contained materials as 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES 183 

it unrolls gives subsequent experiences a wider span consisting 
of a larger number of defined particularities: what I have called 
the extension and volume corresponding to the intension of energy 
due to multiplied resistances. 

It follows that the separation of rhythm and symmetry 
from each other and the division of the arts into temporal and 
spatial is more than a misapplied ingenuity. It is based on a 
principle that is destructive, so far as it is heeded, of esthetic 
understanding. Moreover, it has now lost the support from the 
scientific side it was once supposed to have. For physicists have 
been forced in virtue of the character of their own subject-matter 
to see that their units are not those of space and time, but of 
space-time. The artist made in action if not in conscious 
thought this belated scientific discovery from the very beginning. 
For he has always dealt perforce with perceptual instead of con¬ 
ceptual material, and, in what is perceived, the spatial and 
temporal always go together. It is interesting to note that the 
discovery was made in science when it was found that the process 
of conceptual abstraction could not be carried to the point of 
excluding the act of observation without destroying the possi¬ 
bility of verification. 

When, therefore, the scientific inquirer was obliged to take 
the consequences of the act of perception into account in connec¬ 
tion with his subject-matter, he passed from space and time to a 
unity which he could describe only as space-time. He thus came 
upon a fact that is exemplified in every ordinary perception. For 
the extension and volume of an object, its spatial properties can¬ 
not be directly experienced—or perceived—in a mathematical 
instant, nor can temporal properties of events be experienced 
save as some energy displays itself in an extensive way. Thus 
the artist only does with respect to the temporal and spatial quali¬ 
ties of the material of perception what he does with respect to 
all the content of ordinary perception. He selects, intensifies, and 
concentrates by means of form: rhythm and symmetry being of 
necessity the form that material takes when it undergoes the 
clarifying and ordering operations of art. 

Apart from loss of supposed scientific sanction, the sepa¬ 
ration of temporal and spatial in the fine arts was always inept. 
As Croce has said, we are specifically (or separately) conscious 



184 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of temporal sequence In music and poetry, and of spatial co¬ 
existence in architecture and painting, only when we pass from 
perception to analytic reflection. The supposition that we directly 
hear musical tones to be in time and directly see colors as being 
in space, reads into an immediate experience a later interpretation 
of it due to reflection. We see intervals and directions in pictures 
and we hear distances and volumes in music. If movement alone 
were perceived in music and rest alone in painting, music would 
be wholly without structure and pictures nothing but dry bones. 

Nevertheless, though the distinction between spatial and 
temporal arts is wrongly drawn, since all objects of art are matters 
oi perception and perception is not instantaneous, music in its 
evident temporal emphasis illustrates perhaps better than any 
other art the sense in which form is the moving integration of 
an experience. In music, form, for which even the musical have 
to find spatial language and which even the musical often see as 
a structure, the form develops with the hearing of the music. Any 
point in the musical development, that is to say, any tone, is 
what it is in that musical object—or perception—by virtue of 
what has gone before and what is musically impinging or prophe¬ 
sied. A melody is set by the tonic note, to which an expectancy 
of return is set up as a tension of attention. The “form” of the 
music becomes form in the career of the listening. Moreover, any 
section of the music and any cross-section of it has precisely the 
balance and symmetry, in chords and harmonies, as a painting, 
statue, or building. A melody is a chord deployed in time. 


THE term “energy” has been used many times in this discussion. 
Perhaps insistence upon the idea of energy in connection with 
fine art seems to some minds out of place. Yet there are certain 
commonplaces that it is proper to utter in connection with art that 
cannot be intelligible unless the fact of energy be made central: 
its power to move and stir, to calm and tranquillize. And surely 
either rhythm and balance are either characters foreign to art 
or else art, because of their basic r61e, is only definable as or¬ 
ganization of energies. With respect to what the work of art does 
to us and for us, I see but two alternatives. Either it operates 
because some transcendent essence (usually called “beauty”) 



THE ORGANIZATION OF ENERGIES ISS 

descends upon experience from without, or esthetic effect is due 
to art’s unique transcript of the energy of the things of the world. 
As between these two alternatives, I do not know how mere argu¬ 
ment can determine the choice. But it is something to know what 
is involved in making the choice. 

Taking my stand, then, upon the connection of esthetic 
effect with qualities of all experience as far as any experience is 
unified, I would ask how art can be expressive and yet not be imi¬ 
tative or slavishly representative, save by selecting and ordering 
the energies in virtue of which things act upon us and interest 
us? If art is in any sense reproductive, and yet reproduces neither 
details nor generic features, it necessarily follows that art oper¬ 
ates by selecting those potencies in things by which an experience 
—any experience—has significance and value. Elimination gets 
rid of forces that confuse, distract, and deaden. Order, rhythm 
and balance, simply means that energies significant for experience 
are acting at their best. 

The terms “ideal” has been cheapened by sentimental 
popular use, and by use in philosophic discourse for apologetic 
purposes to disguise discords and cruelties in existence. But there 
is a definite sense in which art is ideal—namely, the sense just 
indicated. Through selection and organization those features that 
make any experience worth having as an experience are prepared 
by art for commensurate perception. There must be, in spite of 
all indifference and hostility of nature to human interests, some 
congruity of nature with man or life could not exist. In art the 
forces that are congenial, that sustain not this or that special aim 
but the processes of enjoyed experience itself, are set free. That 
release gives them ideal quality. For what ideal can man honestly 
entertain save the idea of an environment in which all things 
conspire to the perfecting and sustaining of the values occa¬ 
sionally and partially experienced? 

An English writer, Galsworthy I think, has somewhere de¬ 
fined art “as the imaginative expression of energy which, through 
technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile 
the individual with the universal by exciting in him impersonal 
emotion.” Energies that constitute the objects and events of the 
world and hence determine our experience are the “universal.” 
“Reconciliation” is the attaining, in immediate unargumentative 



166 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


form, of periods of harmonious cooperation of man and the world 
in experiences that are complete. The resultant emotion is “im¬ 
personal” because it is attached not to personal fortune but to the 
object to the construction of which the self has surrendered itself 
in devotion. Appreciation is equally impersonal in its emotional 
quality because it also involves construction and organization of 
objective energies. 



CHAPTER IX 


THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF 
THE ARTS 


\ A/HAT subject-matter is appropriate for art? Are there ma- 
Y V terials inherently fit and others unfit? Or are there none 
which are common and unclean with respect to artistic treatment? 
The answer of the arts themselves has been steadily and pro¬ 
gressively in the direction of an affirmative answer to the last 
question. Yet there is an enduring tradition that insists art should 
make invidious distinctions. A brief survey of the theme may 
accordingly serve as an introduction to the special topic of this 
chapter, namely, the aspects of the matter of art that are common 
to all the arts. 

I had occasion in another connection to refer to the differ¬ 
ence between the popular arts of a period and the official arts. 
Even when favored arts came out from under patronage and 
control of priest and ruler, the distinction of kinds remained even 
though the name “official” is no longer a fitting designation. 
Philosophic theory concerned itself only with those arts that had 
the stamp and seal of recognition by the class having social stand¬ 
ing and authority. Popular arts must have flourished, but they 
obtained no literary attention. They were not worthy of mention 
in theoretical discussion. Probably they were not even thought 
of as arts. 

Instead, however, of dealing with the early formulation 
of an invidious distinction among the arts, I shall select a modern 
representative, and then indicate briefly some aspects of the 
revolt that has broken down the barriers once set up. Sir Joshua 
Reynolds presents us with the statement that since the only sub¬ 
jects fit for treatment in painting are those “generally interesting,” 
they should be “some eminent instance of heroic action or heroic 
suffering,” such as “the great events of Greek and Roman fable 
and history. Such, too, are the capital events of Scripture.” All 

187 



188 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the great paintings of the past, according to him, belong to this 
“historical school,” and he goes on to say that “upon this prin¬ 
ciple, the Roman, the Florentine, the Bolognese schools have 
formed their practice and by it they have deservedly obtained the 
highest praise”—the omission of the Venetian and Flemish 
schools, side by side with the commendation of the eclectic school, 
being a sufficient comment from the strictly artistic side. What 
would he have said if he had been able to anticipate the ballet 
girls of Degas, the railway-coaches of Daumier—actually third 
class—or the apples, napkins, and plates of Cezanne? 

In literature the dominant tradition in theory was similar. 
It was constantly asserted that Aristotle had once for all delimited 
the scope of tragedy, the highest literary mode, by declaring that 
the misfortunes of the noble and those in high place were its 
proper material, while those of the common people were intrinsi¬ 
cally fit for the lesser mode of comedy. Diderot virtually an¬ 
nounced a historic revolution in theory when he said there was 
need for bourgeois tragedies, and that, instead of putting on the 
stage only kings and princes, private persons are subject to terrible 
reverses which inspire pity and terror. And again he asserts that 
domestic tragedies, although having another tone and action than 
classic drama, can have their own sublimity—a prediction as¬ 
suredly fulfilled by Ibsen. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, following the 
period that Housman calls one of sham or counterfeit poetry, 
verse masquerading as poetry, “The Lyrical Ballads” of Words¬ 
worth and Coleridge ushered in a revolution. One of the principles 
that animated its authors was stated by Coleridge as follows: 
“One of the two cardinal points in poetry consists of faithful 
adherence to such characters and incidents as will be found in 
every village and its vicinity when there is a meditative and feel¬ 
ing mind to seek after them, or to notice them when they present 
themselves.” I hardly need point out that long before Reynolds’ 
day a similar revolution was well along in painting. It took a long 
stride when the Venetians in addition to celebrating the sumptu¬ 
ousness of the lives about them gave nominally religious themes 
a distinctly secular treatment. Flemish painters, in addition to 
Dutch genre painters, Breughel the elder, for example, and 
French painters like Chardin, turned frankly to ordinary themes. 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 189 

Painting of portraits was extended from nobility to wealthy mer¬ 
chants with the growth of commerce, and then to men less con¬ 
spicuous. Toward the end of the nineteenth century all lines were 
swept away as far as plastic arts are concerned. 

The novel has been the great instrument of effecting 
change in prose literature. It shifted the center of attention from 
the court to the bourgeoisie, then to the “poor” and the laborer, 
and then to the common person irrespective of station. Rousseau 
owes most of his permanent enormous influence in the field of 
literature to his imaginative excitement about "le peuple”; cer¬ 
tainly more to that cause than to his formal theories. The part 
played by folk-music, especially in Poland, Bohemia, and Ger¬ 
many, in the expansion and renewal of music is too well known 
to require more than notice. Even architecture, the most con¬ 
servative of all the arts, has felt the influence of a transformation 
similar to that the other arts have undergone. Railway stations, 
bank buildings and post-offices, even churches, are no longer ex¬ 
clusively built as imitations of Greek temples and medieval 
cathedrals. The art of established “orders” has been influenced 
as much by revolt against fixation in social classes as by techno¬ 
logical developments in cement and steel. 

This brief sketch has only one purpose: to indicate that, 
in spite of formal theory and canons of criticism, there has taken 
place one of those revolutions that do not go backward. Impulsion 
beyond all limits that are externally set inheres in the very nature 
of the artist’s work. It belongs to the very character of the crea¬ 
tive mind to reach out and seize any material that stirs it so that 
ths value of that material may be pressed out and become the mat¬ 
ter of a new experience. Refusal to acknowledge the boundaries 
set by convention is the source of frequent denunciations of ob¬ 
jects of art as immoral. But one of the functions of art is pre¬ 
cisely to sap the moralistic timidity that causes the mind to shy 
away from some materials and refuse to admit them into the 
clear and purifying light of perceptive consciousness. 

The interest of an artist is the only limitation placed upon 
use of material, and this limitation is not restrictive. It but states 
a trait inherent in the work of the arist, the necessity of sincerity; 
the necessity that he shall not fake and compromise. The universal¬ 
ity of art is so far away from denial of the principle of selection by 



190 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


means of vital interest that it depends upon interest. Other artists 
have other interests, and by their collective work, unembarrassed 
by fixed and antecedent rule, all aspects and phases of experience 
are covered. Interest becomes one-sided and morbid only when 
it ceases to be frank, and becomes sly and furtive—as it doubtless 
does in much contemporary exploitation of sex. Tolstoi’s identifi¬ 
cation of sincerity as the essence of originality compensates for 
much that is eccentric in his tractate on art. In his attack upon 
the merely conventional in poetry, he declares that much of its 
material is borrowed, artists feeding like cannibals upon one 
another. Stock material consists, he says, of “all sorts of legends, 
sagas and ancient traditions; maidens, warriors, shepherds, her¬ 
mits, angels, devils of all sorts; moonlight, thunder, mountains, 
the sea, precipices, flowers, long hair; lions, lambs, doves, night¬ 
ingales—because they have often been used by former artists in 
their productions.” 

In his desire to restrict the material of art to themes drawn 
from the life of the common man, factory worker and especially 
peasant, Tolstoi paints a picture of the conventional restrictions 
that is out of perspective. But there is truth enough in it to serve 
as illustration of one all-important characteristic of art: What¬ 
ever narrows the boundaries of the material fit to be used in art 
hems in also the artistic sincerity of the individual artist. It does 
not give fair play and outlet to his vital interest. It forces his 
perceptions into channels previously worn into ruts and clips 
the wings of his imagination. I think the idea that there is a 
moral obligation on an artist to deal with “proletarian” material, 
or with any material on the basis of its bearing on proletarian 
fortune and destiny is an effort to return to a position that art has 
historically outgrown. But as far as proletarian interest marks a 
new direction of attention and involves observation of materials 
previously passed over, it will certainly call into activity persons 
who were not moved to expression by former materials, and will 
disclose and thus help break down boundaries of which they were 
not previously aware. I am somewhat skeptical about Shake¬ 
speare’s alleged personal aristocratic bias. I fancy that his limita¬ 
tion was conventional, familiar, and therefore congenial to pit as 
well as to stalls. But whatever its source, it limited his “uni¬ 
versality.” 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 191 


Evidence that the historic movement of the art has 
abolished restrictions of its subject-matter that once were justified 
on alleged rational grounds does not prove that there is something 
common in the matter of all the arts. But it suggests that with the 
vast extension of its scope to take in (potentially) anything and 
everything, art would have lost its unity, dispersed into connected 
arts, till we could not see the woods for the trees nor a single tree 
for its branches, were there not a core of common substance. The 
obvious reply to this suggested inference is that the unity of the 
arts resides in their common form. Acceptance of this reply com¬ 
mits us, however, to the idea that form and matter are separate, 
and leads us therefore to return to the assertion that an art 
product is formed substance, and that what appears upon reflec¬ 
tion as form when one interest is uppermost appears as matter 
when change of interest gives another turn to direction. 

Apart from some special interest, every product of art is 
matter and matter only, so that the contrast is not between mat¬ 
ter and form but between matter relatively unformed and matter 
adequately formed. The fact that reflection finds distinctive form 
in pictures cannot be set against the fact that a painting consists 
simply of pigments placed on canvas, since any arrangement and 
design they have is, after all, a property of the substance and of 
nothing else. Similarly, literature as it exists is just so many 
words, spoken and written. “Stuff” is everything, and form a 
name for certain aspects of the matter when attention goes 
primarily to just these aspects. The fact that a work of art is an 
organization of energies and that the nature of the organization is 
all important, cannot militate against the fact that it is energies 
which are organized and that organization has no existence outside 
of them. 


THE acknowledged community of form in different arts car* 
ries with it by implication a corresponding community of sub¬ 
stance. It is this implication which I now propose to explore and 
develop. I have previously noted that artist and perceiver alike 
begin with what may be called a total seizure, an inclusive quali¬ 
tative whole not yet articulated, not distinguished into members. 
Speaking of the origin of his poems, Schiller said: “With me the 



192 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


perception is at first without a clear and definite object. This takes 
shape later. What precedes is a peculiar musical mood of mind. 
Afterwards comes the poetical idea." I interpret this sayiug to 
mean something of the kind just stated. Moreover, not only does 
the “mood” come first, but it persists as the substratum after 
distinctions emerge; in fact they emerge as its distinctions. 

Even at the outset, the total and massive quality has its 
uniqueness; even when vague and undefined, it is just that which 
it is and not anything else. If the perception continues, discrimi¬ 
nation inevitably sets in. Attention must move, and, as it moves, 
parts, members, emerge from the background. And if attention 
moves in a unified direction instead of wandering, it is controlled 
by the pervading qualitative unity; attention is controlled by it 
because it operates within it. That verses are the poem, are its 
substance, is so truistic that it says nothing. But the fact which 
the truism records could not exist unless matter, poetically felt, 
came first, and came in such a unified and massive way as to 
determine its own development, that is its specification into dis¬ 
tinctive parts. If the percipient is aware of seams and mechanical 
junctions in a work of art, it is because the substance is not con¬ 
trolled by a permeating quality. 

Not only must this quality be in all “parts,” but it can 
only be felt, that is, immediately experienced. I am not trying to 
describe it, for it cannot be described nor even be specifically 
pointed at—since whatever is specified in a work of art is one of 
Us differentiations. I am only trying to call attention to something 
that every one can realize is present in his experience of a work 
of art, but that is so thoroughly and pervasively present that 
it is taken for granted. “Intuition” has been used by philosophers 
to designate many things—some of which are suspicious charac¬ 
ters. But the penetrating quality that runs through all the parts 
of a work of art and binds them into an individualized whole can 
only be emotionally “intuited.” The different elements and specific 
qualities of a work of art blend and fuse in a way which physical 
things cannot emulate. This fusion is the felt presence of the same 
qualitative unity in all of them. “Farts” are discriminated, not 
intuited. But without the intuited enveloping quality, parts are 
external to one another and mechanically related. Yet the or¬ 
ganism which is the work of art is nothing different from its 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 193 

parts or members. It is the parts as members—a fact that again 
brings us to the one pervasive quality that remains the same 
quality in being differentiated. The resulting sense of totality is 
commemorative, expectant, insinuating, premonitory.* 

There is no name to be given it. As it enlivens and ani¬ 
mates, it is the spirit of the work of art. It is its reality, when we 
feel the work of art to be real on its own account and not as a 
realistic exhibition. It is the idiom in which the particular work 
is composed and expressed, that which stamps it with individual¬ 
ity. It is the background which is more than spatial because it 
enters into and qualifies everything in the focus, everything dis¬ 
tinguished as a part and member. We are accustomed to think 
of physical objects as having bounded edges; things like rocks, 
chairs, books, houses, trade, and science, with its efforts at 
precise measurement, have confirmed the belief. Then we uncon¬ 
sciously carry over this belief in the bounded character of all 
objects of experience (a belief founded ultimately in the practical 
exigencies of our dealings with things) into our conception of 
experience itself. We suppose the experience has the same definite 
limits as the things with which it is concerned. But any experience 
the most ordinary, has an indefinite total setting. Things, objects, 
are only focal points of a here and now in a whole that stretches 
out indefinitely. This is the qualitative “background” which is 
defined and made definitely conscious in particular objects and 
specified properties and qualities. There is something mystical 
associated with the word intuition, and any experience becomes 
mystical in the degree in which the sense, the feeling, of the un¬ 
limited envelope becomes intense—as it may do in experience of 
an object of art. As Tennyson said: 

“Experience is an arch where thro* 

Gleams that untraveWd world, whose margin jades 
Forever and forever when I move .” 

For although there is a bounding horizon, it moves as we 
move. We are never wholly free from the sense of something that 
lies beyond. Within the limited world directly seen, there is a 

*1 take this opportunity to mention again the essay on Qualitative 
Thought, previously referred to (p. 120). 



194 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


tree with a rock at its foot; we fasten our sight upon the rock, 
and then upon the moss on the rock, perhaps we then take a 
microscope to view some tiny lichen. But whether the scope of 
vision be vast or minute, we experience it as a part of a larger 
whole and inclusive whole, a part that now focuses our experi¬ 
ence. We might expand the field from the narrower to the wider. 
But however broad the field, it is still felt as not the whole; the 
margins shade into that indefinite expanse beyond which imagina¬ 
tion calls the universe. This sense of the including whole implicit 
in ordinary experiences is rendered intense within the frame of a 
painting or poem. It, rather than any special purgation, is that 
which reconciles us to the events of tragedy. The symbolists have 
exploited this indefinite phase of art; Poe spoke of “a suggestive 
indefiniteness of vague and therefore spiritual effect,” while Cole¬ 
ridge said that every work of art must have about it something 
not understood to obtain its full effect. 

About every explicit and focal object there is a recession 
into the implicit which is not intellectually grasped. In reflection 
we call it dim and vague. But in the original experience it is not 
identified as the vague. It is a function of the whole situation, and 
not an element in it, as it would have to be in order to be 
apprehended as vague. At twilight, dusk is a delightful quality 
of the whole world. It is its appropriate manifestation. It be¬ 
comes a specialized and obnoxious trait only when it pre¬ 
vents distinct perception of some particular thing we desire to 
discern. 

The undefined pervasive quality of an experience is that 
which binds together all the defined elements, the objects of which 
we are focally aware, making them a whole. The best evidence 
that such is the case is our constant sense of things as belonging 
or not belonging, of relevancy, a sense which is immediate. It can¬ 
not be a product of reflection, even though it requires reflection to 
find out whether some particular consideration is pertinent to what 
we are doing or thinking. For unless the sense were immediate, we 
should have no guide to our reflection. The sense of an extensive 
and underlying whole is the context of every experience and it is 
the essence of sanity. For the mad, the insane, thing to us is that 
which is torn from the common context and which stands alone 
and isolated, as anything must which occurs in a world totally 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 195 


different from ours. Without an indeterminate and undetermined 
setting, the material of any experience is incoherent. 

A work of art elicits and accentuates this quality of bang 
a whole and of belonging to the larger, all-inclusive, whole which is 
the universe in which we live. This fact, I think, is the explanation 
of that feeling of exquisite intelligibility and clarity we have in 
the presence of an object that is experienced with esthetic in¬ 
tensity. It explains also the religious feeling that accompanies in¬ 
tense esthetic perception. We are, as it were, introduced into a 
world beyond this world which is nevertheless the deeper reality 
of the world in which we live in our ordinary experiences. We are 
carried out beyond ourselves to find ourselves. I can see no psy¬ 
chological ground for such properties of an experience save that, 
somehow, the work of art operates to deepen and to raise to great 
clarity that sense of an enveloping undefined whole that accom¬ 
panies every normal experience. This whole is then felt as an 
expansion of ourselves. For only one frustrated in a particular 
object of desire upon which he had staked himself, like Macbeth, 
finds that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, 
signifying nothing. Where egotism is not made the measure of 
reality and value, we are citizens of this vast world beyond our¬ 
selves, and any intense realization of its presence with and in us 
brings a peculiarly satisfying sense of unity in itself and with 
ourselves. 


EVERY work of art has a particular medium by which, among 
other things, the qualitative pervasive whole is carried. In every 
experience we touch the world through some particular tentacle; 
we carry on our intercourse with it, it comes home to us, through 
a specialized organ. The entire organism with all its charge of 
the past and varied resources operates, but it operates through 
a particular medium, that of eye, as it interacts with eye, ear, 
and touch. The fine arts lay hold of this fact and push it to its 
maximum of significance. In any ordinary visual perception, we 
see by means of light; we distinguish by means of reflected and 
refracted colors: that is a truism. But in ordinary perceptions, 
this medium of color is mixed, adulterated. While we see, we 
also hear; we feel pressures, and heat or cold. In a painting, color 



196 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


renders the scene without these alloys and impurities. They are 
part of the dross that is squeezed out and left behind in an act of 
intensified expression. The medium becomes color alone, and since 
color alone must now carry the qualities of movement, touch, 
sound, etc., that are present physically on their own account in 
ordinary vision, the expressiveness and energy of color are en¬ 
hanced. 

Photographs to primitive folk have, so it is said, a fearful 
magical quality. It is uncanny that solid and living things should 
be thus presented. There is evidence that when pictures of any kind 
first made their appearance, magical power was imputed to them. 
Their power of representation could come only from a super¬ 
natural source. To one who is not rendered callous by common 
contact with pictorial representations there is still something 
miraculous in the power of a contracted, flat, uniform thing to 
depict the wide and diversified universe of animate and inanimate 
things: it is possibly for this reason that popularly “art” tends 
to denote painting, and “artist” one who paints. Primitive man 
also imputed to sounds when used as words the power to control 
supematurally the acts and secrets of men and to command, pro¬ 
vided the right word was there, the forces of nature. The power of 
mere sounds to express in literature all events and objects is 
equally marvelous. 

Such facts as these seem to me to suggest the rfile and 
significance of media for art. At first sight, it seems a fact not 
worth recording that every art has a medium of its own. Why put 
it down in black and white that painting cannot exist without 
color, music without sound, architecture without stone and wood, 
statuary without marble and bronze, literature without words, 
dancing without the living body? The answer has, I believe, been 
indicated. In every experience, there is the pervading underlying 
qualitative whole that corresponds to and manifests the whole 
organization of activities which constitute the mysterious human 
frame. But in every experience, this complex, this differentiated 
and recording, mechanism operates through special structures that 
take the lead, not in dispersed diffusion through all organs at once 
•—save in panic when, as we truly say, one has lost one’s head. 
“Medium” in fine art denotes the fact that this specialization and 
individualization of a particular organ of experience is carried 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 197 


to the point wherein all its possibilities are exploited. The eye or 
ear that is centrally active does not lose its specific character and 
its special fitness as the bearer of an experience that it uniquely 
makes possible. In art, the seeing or hearing that is dispersed and 
mixed in ordinary perceptions is concentrated until the peculiar 
office of the special medium operates with full energy, free from 
distraction. 

“Medium” signifies first of all an intermediary. The import 
of the word “means” is the same. They are the middle, the inter¬ 
vening, things through which something now remote is brought to 
pass. Yet not all means are media. There are two kinds of means. 
One kind is external to that which is accomplished; the other 
kind is taken up into the consequences produced and remains 
immanent in them. There are ends which are merely welcome 
cessations and there are ends that are fulfillments of what went 
before. The toil of a laborer is too often only an antecedent to the 
wage he receives, as consumption of gasoline is merely a means 
to transportation. The means cease to act when the “end” is 
reached; one would be glad, as a rule, to get the result without 
having to employ the means. They are but a scaffolding. 

Such external or mere means, as we properly term them, 
are usually of such a sort that others can be substituted for them; 
the particular ones employed are determined by some extraneous 
consideration, like cheapness. But the moment we say “media,” 
we refer to means that are incorporated in the outcome. Even 
bricks and mortar become a part of the house they are employed 
to build; they are not mere means to i f s erection. Colors are the 
painting; tones are the music. A picture painted with water colors 
has a quality different from that painted with oil. Esthetic effects 
belong intrinsically to their medium; when another medium is 
substituted, we have a stunt rather than an object of art. Even 
when substitution is practiced with the utmost virtuosity or for 
any reason outside the kind of end desired, the product is mechani¬ 
cal or a tawdry sham—like boards painted to resemble stone in 
the construction of a cathedral, for stone is integral not just 
physically, but to the esthetic effect. 

The difference between external and intrinsic operations 
runs through all the affairs of life. One student studies to pass 
an examination, to get promotion. To another, the means, the 



198 ART AS EXPERIENCE 

activity of learning, is completely one with what results from it 
The consequence, instruction, illumination, is one with the proc¬ 
ess. Sometimes we journey to get somewhere else because we have 
business at the latter point and would gladly, were it possible, cut 
out the traveling. At other times we journey for the delight of 
moving about and seeing what we see. Means and end coalesce. 
If we run over in mind a number of such cases we quickly see 
that all the cases in which means and ends are external to one 
another are non-esthetic. This externality may even be regarded 
as a definition of the non-esthetic. 

Being “good” for the sake of avoiding penalty, whether it 
be going to jail or to hell, makes conduct unlovely. It is as 
anesthetic as is going to the dentist’s chair so as to avoid a lasting 
injury. When the Greeks identified the good and beautiful in 
actions, they revealed, in their feeling of grace and proportion in 
right conduct, a perception of fusion of means and ends. The 
adventures of a pirate have at least a romantic attraction lacking 
in the painful acquisitions of him who stays within the law merely 
because he thinks it pays better in the end to do so. A large part 
of popular revulsion against utilitarianism in moral theory is be¬ 
cause of its exaggeration of sheer calculation. “Decorum” and 
“propriety” which once had a favorable, because esthetic, mean¬ 
ing are taking on a disparaging signification because they are 
understood to denote a primness or smugness assumed because of 
desire for an external end. In all ranges of experience, externality 
of means defines the mechanical. Much of what is termed spiritual 
is also unesthetic. But the unesthetic quality is because the things 
denoted by the word also exemplify separation of means and end; 
the “ideal” is so cut off from the realities, by which alone it can be 
striven for, that it is vapid. The “spiritual” gets a local habitation 
and achieves the solidity of form required for esthetic quality 
only when it is embodied in a sense of actual things. Even angels 
have to be provided in imagination with bodies and wings. 

I have referred more than once to the esthetic quality that 
may inhere in scientific work. To the layman the material of the 
scientist is usually forbidding. To the inquirer there exists a ful¬ 
filling and consummatory quality, for conclusions sum up and 
perfect the conditions that lead up to them. Moreover, they have 
at times an elegant and even austere form. It is said that Clark- 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 199 

Maxwell once introduced a symbol in order to make a physical 
equation symmetrical, and that it was only later that experimental 
results gave the symbol its meaning. I suppose that it is also true 
that if business men were the mere money-grubbers they are often 
supposed to be by the unsympathetic outsider, business would be 
much less attractive than it is. In practice, it may take on the 
properties of a game, and even when it is socially harmful it must 
have an esthetic quality to those whom it captivates. 

Means are, then, media when they are not just preparatory 
or preliminary. As a medium, color is a go-between for the values 
weak and dispersed in ordinary experiences and the new concen¬ 
trated perception occasioned by a painting. A phonographic disk 
is a vehicle of an ei.ect and nothing more. The music which issues 
from it is also a vehicle but is something more; it is a vehicle 
which becomes one with what it carries; it coalesces with what 
it conveys. Physically, a brush and the movement of the hand 
in applying color to canvas are external to a painting. Not so 
artistically. Brush-strokes are an integral part of the esthetic effect 
of a painting when it is perceived. Some philosophers have put 
forth the idea that esthetic effect or beauty is a kind of ethereal 
essence which, in accommodation to flesh, is compelled to use 
external sensuous material as a vehicle. The doctrine implies that 
were not the soul imprisoned in the body, pictures would exist 
without colors, music without sounds, and literature without 
words. Except, however, for critics who tell us how they feel 
without telling or knowing in terms of media used why they feel 
as they do, and except for persons who identify gush with appre¬ 
ciation, media and esthetic effect are completely fused. 

Sensitivity to a medium as a medium is the very heart of 
all artistic creation and esthetic perception. Such sensitiveness 
does not lug in extraneous material. When, for example, paintings 
are looked at as illustrations of historical scenes, of literature, of 
familiar scenes, they are not perceived in terms of their media. 
Or, when they are looked at simply with reference to the technic 
employed in making them what they are, they are not esthetically 
perceived. For here, too, means, are separated from ends. Anal¬ 
ysis of the former becomes a substitute for enjoyment of the 
latter. It is true that artists seem themselves often to approach 
a work of art from an exclusively technical standpoint—and the 



200 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


outcome is at least refreshing after having had a dose of what 
is regarded as “appreciation.” But in reality, for the most part, 
they so feel the whole that it is not necessary to dwell upon the 
end, the whole, in words, and so they are freed to consider how 
the latter is produced. 

The medium is a mediator. It is a go-between of artist and 
perceiver. Tolstoi in the midst of his moral preconceptions often 
speaks as an artist. He is celebrating this function of an artist 
when he makes the remarks already quoted about art as that 
which unites. The important thing for the theory of art is that 
this union is effected through the use of special material as a 
medium. By temperament, perhaps by inclination and aspiration, 
we are all artists—up to a certain point. What is lacking is that 
which marks the artist in execution. For the artist has the power 
to seize upon a special kind of material and convert it into 
an authentic medium of expression. The rest of us require many 
channels and a mass of material to give expression to what we 
should like to say. Then the variety of agencies employed get in 
the way of one another and render expression turbid, while the 
sheer bulk of material employed makes it confused and awkward. 
The artist sticks to his chosen organ and its corresponding ma¬ 
terial, and thus the idea singly and concentratedly felt in terms 
of the medium comes through pure and clear. He plays the game 
intensely, because strictly. 

Something which Delacroix said of painters of his day 
applies to inferior artists generally. He said they used coloration 
rather than color. The statement signified that they applied color 
to their represented objects instead of making them out of color. 
This procedure signifies that colors as means and objects and 
scenes depicted were kept apart. They did not use color as medium 
with complete devotion. Their minds and experience were divided. 
Means and end did not coalesce. The greatest esthetic revolution 
In the history of painting took place when color was used struc¬ 
turally; then pictures ceased to be colored drawings. The true 
artist sees and feels in terms of his medium and the one who has 
learned to perceive esthetically emulates the operation. Others 
carry into their seeing of pictures and hearing of music preconcep¬ 
tions drawn from sources that obstruct and confuse perception. 

Fine art is sometimes defined as power to create illusions. 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 201 

As far as I can see this statement is a decidedly unintelligent 
and misleading way of stating a truth—namely, that artists create 
effects by command of single medium. In ordinary perception we 
depend upon contribution from a variety of sources for our 
understanding of the meaning of what we are undergoing. The 
artistic use of a medium signifies that irrelevant aids are excluded 
and one sense quality is concentratedly and intensely used to do 
the work usually done loosely with the aid of many. But to call 
the result an illusion is to mix matters that should be distin¬ 
guished. If measure of artistic merit were ability to paint a fly 
on a peach so that we are moved to brush it off or grapes on a 
canvas so that birds come to peck at them, a scare-crow would be 
a work of consummate fine-art when it succeeds at keeping away 
the crows. 

The confusion of which I have just spoken can be cleared 
up. There is something physical, in its ordinary sense of real 
existence. There is the color or sound that constitutes the medium. 
And there is an experience having a sense of reality, quite likely 
a heightened one. This sense would be illusory, if it were like that 
which appertains to the sense of the real existence of the medium. 
But it is very different. On the stage the media, the actors and 
their voices and gestures, are really there; they exist. And the cul¬ 
tivated auditor has as a consequence a heightened sense (suppos¬ 
ing the play to be genuinely artistic) of the reality of things of 
ordinary experience. Only the uncultivated theatergoer has such 
an illusion of the reality of what is enacted that he identifies what 
is done with the kind of reality manifested in the psychical pres¬ 
ence of the actors, so that he tries to join in the action. A painting 
of trees or rocks may make the characteristic reality of tree or 
rock more poignant than it had ever been before. But that does 
not imply that the spectator takes a part of the picture to be an 
actual rock of the kind he could hammer or sit on. What makes 
a material a medium is that it is used to express a meaning which 
is other than that which it is in virtue of its bare physical exist¬ 
ence: the meaning not of what it physically is, but of what it 
expresses. 

In the discussion of the qualitative background of experi¬ 
ence and of the special medium through which distinct meanings 
and values are projected upon it, we are in the presence of some* 



202 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


thing common in the substance of the arts. Media are different 
in the different arts. But possession of a medium belongs to them 
all. Otherwise they would not be expressive, nor without this com¬ 
mon substance could they possess form. I referred earlier to Dr. 
Barnes’ definition of form as the integration, through relations, 
of color, light, line and space. Color is evidently the medium. 
But the other arts not only have something corresponding to color 
as medium but they have as a property of their substance some¬ 
thing which exercises the same function that line and space perform 
in a picture. In the latter, line demarcates, delimits, and the result 
is presentation of distinct objects, figure or shape being the means 
by which an otherwise indiscriminate mass is defined into identi¬ 
fiable objects, persons, mountains, grass. Every art has indi¬ 
vidualized, defined members. Every art so uses its substantial 
medium as to give complexity of parts to the unity of its 
creations. 

The function we are likely to assign to line, upon first 
thinking of it, is that of form. A line relates, connects. It is an 
integral means of determining rhythm. Reflection shows, however, 
that what gives the just relationship in one direction constitutes 
individuality of parts in the other direction. Suppose we are 
looking at an ordinary “natural” landscape, consisting of trees, 
undergrowth, a patch of grassy field, and a few hills in the back¬ 
ground. The scene consists of these parts. But they do not com¬ 
pose well as far as the entire scene is concerned. The hills and 
some of the trees are not placed right; we want to rearrange them. 
Some of the branches do not fit; and, while some of the under¬ 
brush makes a good setting, other parts of it are confusingly in 
the way. 

Physically the things mentioned are parts of the scene. But 
they are not parts of it if we take it as an esthetic whole. Now our 
first tendency, looking at the matter esthetically, would probably 
be to assign the defects to the form, to the side of inadequate 
and disturbing relationship of contour, mass, and placing. And we 
should not be wrong in feeling that jar and interference arise from 
this source. But if we carry analysis further, we see that defect 
in relationship on one side is defect in individual structure and 
definiteness on the other side. We should find that the changes 
we make in order to get a better composition also serve to give 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 203 


parts an individualization, a definiteness, in perception they did 
not have before. 

The same sort of thing holds when accent and interval 
are in question. They are determined by the necessity of main¬ 
taining the relations that bind parts into a whole. But also with¬ 
out these elements, parts would be a jumble, running aimlessly 
into one another; they would lack the demarcation that indi¬ 
vidualizes. In music or verse there would be meaningless lapses. 
If a painting is to be a picture, there must be not only rhythm, 
but mass—the common substratum of color—must be defined 
into figures; otherwise there are smears, blotches, and blurs. 

There are pictures in which colors are subdued and yet the 
painting gives us a sense of glow and splendor, while the colors 
in other paintings are bright to the point of loudness, and yet 
the total effect is of something drab. Vividly bright color, except 
at the hands of an artist, is reasonably sure to suggest a chromo. 
But with an artist, a color garish in itself or even muddy may 
enhance energy. The explanation of such facts as these is that 
an artist uses color to define an object, and accomplishes this indi¬ 
vidualization so completely that color and object fuse. The color 
is of the object and the object in all its qualities is expressed 
through color. For it is objects that glow—gems and sunlight; 
and it is objects that are splendid—crowns, robes, sunlight. Ex¬ 
cept as they express objects, through being the significant color- 
quality of materials of ordinary experience, colors effect only 
transient excitations—as red arouses while another color soothes. 
Take any art one pleases, and it will appear that the medium is 
expressive because it is used to individualize and define, and 
this not just in the sense of physical outline but in the sense of 
expressing that quality which is one with the character of an 
object; it renders character distinct by emphasis. 

What would a novel or drama be without different per¬ 
sons, situations, actions, ideas, movements, events? These are 
marked off technically by acts and scenes in the drama, by vari¬ 
ous entrances and exits and all the devices of stage-craft. But 
the latter are just means of throwing elements into such relief 
that they complete objects and episodes on their own account— 
as rests in music are not blanks, but, while they continue a rhythm, 
punctuate and institute individuality. What would an architec- 



204 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


tural structure be without differentiation of masses, and a differ¬ 
entiation that is not just physical and spatial, but one that 
defines parts, windows, doors, cornices, supports, roof, and so 
on? But by dwelling unduly on a fact that is always present in 
any complex significant whole, I may appear to make a mystery 
out of a thing that is our most familiar experience—that no whole 
is significant to us except as it is constituted by parts that are 
themselves significant apart from the whole to which they belong 
—that, in short, no significant community can exist save as it 
is composed of individuals who are significant. 

The American watercolorist, John Marin, has said of a 
work of art: “Identity looms up as the great sheet anchor. And 
as nature in the fashioning of man has adhered strictly to Identity, 
Head, Body, Limbs and their separate contents, identities in them¬ 
selves, working every part within itself and through and with 
the other parts, its neighbors, at its best approaching a beautiful 
balance, so this art product is made up of neighbor identities. 
And if an identity in this make-up doesn’t take its place and part 
it’s a bad neighbor. And if the chords connecting the neighbors 
do not take their places and parts, it’s a bad service, a bad con¬ 
tact. So this Art product is a village in itself.” These identities 
are the parts that are themselves individual wholes in the substance 
of the work of art. 

In great art, there h no limit set to the individualization 
of parts within parts. Leibniz taught that the universe is in¬ 
finitely organic because every organic thing is constituted ad 
infinitum of other organisms. One may be skeptical of the truth 
of this proposition as regards the universe, but, as a measure of 
artistic achievement, it is true that every part of a work of art 
is potentially at least so constituted, since it is susceptible of in¬ 
definite perceptual differentiation. We see buildings in which there 
Is little or nothing in the parts to arrest attention—unless from 
sheer ugliness.* Our eyes literally glance over and by. In trivial 
music, parts are simply means of passing on; they do not hold 
us as parts, nor as the succession goes on do we hold what precedes 
as parts; as with the esthetically cheap novel, we may get a 

♦The explanation of the fact that things ugly in themselves may con¬ 
tribute to the esthetic effect of a whole is doubtless often due to the fact that 
they are so used as to contribute to individualization of parts within a whole. 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 205 


“kick” from the excitation of movement, but there is nothing 
to dwell upon unless there is an individualized object or event. 
On the other hand, prose may have a symphonic effect when 
articulation is carried down into every particular. The more defi¬ 
nition of parts contributes to the whole, the more it is important 
in itself. 

To look at a work of art in order to see how well certain 
rules are observed and canons conformed to impoverishes percep¬ 
tion. But to strive to note the ways in which certain conditions 
are fulfilled, such as the organic means by which the media is made 
to express and carry definite parts, or how the problem of adequate 
individualization is solved, sharpens esthetic perception and en¬ 
riches its content. For every artist accomplishes the operation in 
his own way and never exactly repeats himself in any two of his 
works. He is entitled to every and any technical means by which 
he can effect the result, while to apprehend his characteristic 
method of doing so is to get an initiation into esthetic comprehen¬ 
sion. One painter gives individuality in detail by fluid lines, by 
mergings, more than another artist does with the most sharply 
outlined profile. One does with chiaroscuro what another brings 
about by high lights. It is not uncommon to find in Rembrandt’s 
drawings, lines within a figure that are stronger than those which 
bound it externally—and yet there is gain rather than sacrifice 
of individuality. In a general way there are two opposite methods; 
that of contrast, of the staccato, the abrupt, and that of the fluid, 
the merging, the subtle gradation. From that we can proceed to 
discovery of ever-increasing refinements. As instances of the two 
methods in the large, we may take instances cited by Leo Stein. 
“Compare,” he says, “the line of Shakespeare ‘in cradle of rude 
imperious surge’ with the line ‘When icicles hang by the wall.’ M 
In the first, there are contrasts like cradle-surge, imperious-rude, 
contrasts of vowels and also of pace. In the other, he says: “Each 
line is like a loop in a lightly hung chain, or even like a canti¬ 
lever, easily in touch with its fellows.” The fact that the method 
of abruptness lends itself most directly to definition and that 
of continuity to establishing of relations is perhaps a reason why 
artists have liked to reverse the process and thus increase the 
amount of energy elicited. 

It is possible for both perceiver and artist to carry their 



206 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


predilection for a particular method of attaining individualiza¬ 
tion to such a point that they confuse the method with the end, 
and deny the latter exists when they are repelled by the means 
used to achieve it. From the side of the audience, this fact is 
illustrated on a large scale by the reception given to paintings 
when artists ceased to employ obvious shading to delimit figures, 
using a relation of colors instead. It is peculiarly evident from 
the side of art, in one who is significant in painting (but es¬ 
pecially in drawing) and preeminently great in poetry, Blake. 
He denied esthetic merit to Rubens, Rembrandt, and the Venetian 
and Flemish schools generally because they worked with “broken 
lines, broken masses and broken colors”—the very factors that 
characterize the great revival of painting toward the end of the 
nineteenth century. He added: “The great and golden rule of 
art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp and 
wiry the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art, and the 
less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imagina¬ 
tion, plagiarism and bungling.... The want of this determinate 
and bounding form evidences the want of idea in the artist’s 
mind, and the pretense of plagiary in all its branches.” The pas¬ 
sage deserves quotation for its emphatic recognition o£<the neces¬ 
sity of determinateness of individualization of the members of a 
work of art. But it also indicates the limitation that may accom¬ 
pany a particular mode of vision when it is intense. 

There is another matter that is common to the substance 
of all works of art. Space and time—or rather space-time—are 
found in the matter of every art product. In the arts, they are 
neither the empty containers nor the formal relations that schools 
of philosophy have sometimes represented them to be. They are 
substantial; they are properties of every kind of material em¬ 
ployed in artistic expression and esthetic realization. Imagine 
in reading Macbeth an attempt to separate the witches from the 
heath, or in the matter of Keats’ “Ode on the Grecian Urn,” a 
separation of the bodily figures of priest, maidens, and heifer 
from something called soul or spirit. In painting, space certainly 
relates; it helps constitute form. But it is directly felt, sensed, 
as quality also. If it were not, a picture would be so full of holes 
as to disorganize perceptual experience. Psychologists, until Wil¬ 
liam James taught better, were accustomed to find only temporal 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 207 


quality in sounds, and some of them made even this a matter of 
intellectual relationship instead of a quality as distinctive as any 
other trait of sound. James showed that sounds were spatially 
voluminous as well—a fact which every musician had practically 
employed and exhibited whether he had theoretically formulated 
it or not. As with the other properties of substance of which we 
have spoken, the fine arts seek out and elicit this quality of all 
the things we experience and express it more energetically and 
clearly than do the things from which they extract it. As science 
takes qualitative space and time and reduces them to relations 
that enter into equations, so art makes them abound in their 
own sense as significant values of the very substance of all things. 

Movement in direct experience is alteration in the qualities 
of objects, and space as experienced is an aspect of this qualita¬ 
tive change. Up and down, back and front, to and fro, this side 
and that—or right and left—here and there, feel differently. The 
reason they do is that they are not static points in something itself 
static, but are objects in movement, qualitative changes of value. 
For "back” is short for back wards and front for for wards. So 
with velocity. Mathematically there are no such things as fast 
and slow. They mark simply greater and less on a number 
scale. As experienced they are qualitatively as unlike as are noise 
and silence, heat and cold, black and white. To be forced to wait 
a long time for an important event to happen is a length very 
different from that measured by the movements of the hands of 
a clock. It is something qualitative. 

There is another significant involution of time and move¬ 
ment in space. It is constituted not only by directional tendencies 
—up and down, for example—but by mutual approaches and re¬ 
treatings. Near and far, close and distant, are qualities of preg¬ 
nant, often tragic, import—that is, as they are experienced, not 
just stated by measurement in science. They signify loosening 
and tightening, expanding and contracting, separating and com¬ 
pacting, soaring and drooping, rising and falling; the disper¬ 
sive, scattering, and the hovering and brooding, unsubstantial 
lightness and massive blow. Such actions and reaction are the 
very stuff out of which the objects and events we experience are 
made. They can be described in science because they are there 
reduced to relations that differ only mathematically, as science 



208 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


is concerned about the remote and identical or repeated things 
that are conditions of actual experience and not with experience 
in its own right. But in experience they are infinitely diversified 
and cannot be described, while in works of art they are expressed . 
For art is a selection of what is significant, with rejection by the 
very same impulse of what is irrelevant, and thereby the signifi¬ 
cant is compressed and intensified. 

Music, for example, gives us the very essence of the drop¬ 
ping down and the exalted rising, the surging and retreating, the 
acceleration and retardation, the tightening and loosening, the 
sudden thrust and the gradual insinuation of things. The expres¬ 
sion is abstract in that it is freed from attachment to this and 
that, while at the same time it is intensely direct and concrete. It 
would be possible, I think, to make out a plausible case for the 
assertion that, without the arts, the experience of volumes, masses, 
figures, distances and directions of qualitative change would have 
remained rudimentary, something dimly apprehended and hardly 
capable of articulate communication. 

While the emphasis of the plastic arts is upon the spatial 
aspects of change and that of music and the literary arts upon 
the temporal, the difference is only one of emphasis within a 
common substance. Each possesses what the other actively ex¬ 
ploits, and its possession is a background without which the prop¬ 
erties brought to the front by emphasis would explode into the 
void, evaporate into imperceptible homogeneity. An almost point 
for point correspondence can be instituted between, say, the open¬ 
ing bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony* and the serial order of 
weights, of ponderous volumes, in Cezanne’s “Card Players.” 
In consequence of the voluminous quality belonging to them both, 
both the symphony and the painting have power, strength, and 
solidity—like a massive, well-constructed bridge of stone. They 
both express the enduring, that which is structurally resistant. 
Two artists by different media put the essential quality of a rock 
into things as unlike as a picture and a series of complex sounds. 
One does his work by color plus space, the other by a sound plus 
time, which in this case has the massive volume of space. 

For space and time as experienced are not only qualita¬ 
tive but infinitely diversified in qualities. We can reduce the 
diversification to three general themes: Room, Extent, Position— 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 209 

Spaciousness, Spatiality, Spacing—or in terms of time—transition, 
endurance and date. In experience, these traits qualify one an¬ 
other in a single effect. One usually predominates over the others, 
however, and while they have no separate existence they can be 
distinguished in thought. 

Space is room, Raum , and room is roominess, a chance to 
be, live and move. The very word “breathing-space” suggests the 
choking, the oppression that results when things are constricted. 
Anger appears to be a reaction in protest against fixed limitation 
of movement. Lack of room is denial of life, and openness of 
space is affirmation of its potentiality. Overcrowding, even when 
it does not impede life, is irritating. What is true of space is true 
of time. We need a “space of time” in which to accomplish any¬ 
thing significant. Undue haste forced upon us by pressure of 
circumstances is hateful. Our constant cry when pushed from 
without is Give us time! The master, it is true, shows himself 
within limitations, and a literally infinite room within which to 
act would signify complete dispersion. But the limitations must 
bear a definite ratio to power; they involve cooperative choice; 
they cannot be imposed. 

Works of art express space as opportunity for movement 
and action. It is a matter of proportions qualitatively felt. A 
lyric ode may have it when a would-be epic misses it. Small pic¬ 
tures manifest it when acres of paint leave us with a sense of 
being cribbed and cabined. Emphasis upon spaciousness is a 
characteristic of Chinese paintings. Instead of being centralized 
so as to require frames, they move outwards, while panoramic 
scroll paintings present a world in which ordinary boundaries are 
transformed into invitations to proceed. Yet by different means, 
western paintings that are highly centralized create the sense of 
the extensive whole that encloses a scene that is carefully de¬ 
fined. Even an interior, like Van Eyck’s “Jean Amolfini and 
Wife,” may convey within a defined compass the explicit sense 
of the outdoors beyond the walls. Titian paints the background in 
the portrait of an individual so that infinite space, not just the 
canvas, is behind the figure. 

Mere room, opportunity and possibility wholly indeter¬ 
minate, would be, however, blank and empty. Space and time in 
experience are also occupancy, filling—not merely something ex- 



210 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


temally filled. Spatiality is mass and volume, as temporality is 
endurance, not just abstract duration. Sounds as well as colors 
shrink and expand and colors like sounds rise and fall. As I 
have noted before, William James made evident the voluminous 
quality of sounds, and it is no metaphor when tones are denomi¬ 
nated high and low, long and short, thin and massive. In music, 
sounds return as well as proceed; they display intervals as well 
as progression. The reason is like that already noted regarding 
the splendor or dinginess of colors in painting. They belong to 
objects; they are not floating and isolated, and the objects to 
which they belong exist in a world possessed of extent and volume. 

Murmuring is of brooks, whispering, and rustling of 
leaves, rippling of waves, roar of surf and thunder, moaning and 
whistling of wind... and so on indefinitely. By this statement I 
do not mean that the thinness of the flute’s note and the massive 
peal of the organ are directly associated by us with particular 
natural objects. But I do mean that these tones express qualities 
of extension because only intellectual abstraction can separate an 
event in time from an extended object that initiates or undergoes 
change. Time as empty does not exist; time as an entity does not 
exist. What exists are things acting and changing, and a constant 
quality of their behavior is temporal. 

Volume, like roominess, is a quality independent of mere 
size and bulk. There are small landscapes that convey the 
abundance of nature. A still life of Cezanne’s, with a composition 
of pears and apples, conveys the very essence of volume in dy¬ 
namic equilibrium both to another and to surrounding space as 
well. The frail, the fragile, need not be examples of esthetic weak¬ 
ness; they, too, may be embodiments of volume. Novels, poems, 
dramas, statues, buildings, characters, social movements, argu¬ 
ments, as well as pictures and sonatas, are marked by solidity, 
massiveness, and the reverse. 

Without the third property, spacing, occupancy would 
be a jumble. Place, position, determined by distribution of in¬ 
tervals through spacing, is a great factor in effecting the indi¬ 
vidualization of parts already spoken of. But a position taken has 
an immediate qualitative value and as such is an inherent part 
of substance. The feeling of energy and especially not just of 
energy in general but of this or that power in the concrete is 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 219 

closely connected with rightness in placing. For there is an energy 
of position as well as of motion. And while the former is some¬ 
times called potential energy In physics in distinction from 
kinetic energy, as directly felt it is as actual as is the latter. 
Indeed in the plastic arts, it is the means by which movement is 
expressed. Some intervals (determined in all directions, not merely 
laterally) are favorable to the manifestation of energy; others 
frustrate its operation—boxing and wrestling are obvious exam¬ 
ples. 

Things may be too far apart, too near together, or disposed 
at the wrong angle in relation to one another, to allow of energy 
of action. Awkwardness of composition whether a human being oi 
in architecture, prose, or painting is the -result. Meter in poetry 
owes its more subtle effects to what it does in securing a just posi¬ 
tion for various elements—an obvious instance being its frequent 
inversion of the order of prose. There are ideas that would be 
destroyed if they were spaced by means of spondees instead 
of trochees. Too much distance or too undefined an interval 
in novel and drama sets attention wandering or puts it to 
sleep, while incidents and characters treading on one another’s 
heels detract from the force of them all. Certain effects that 
distinguish some painters depend upon their fine feeling for 
spacing—a matter quite distinct from use of planes to convey 
volumes and backgrounds. As Cezanne is a master of the latter, 
Corot has unerring tact for the former—especially in portraits 
and so-called Italian paintings as compared with his popular but 
relatively weak silvery landscapes. We think of transposition par¬ 
ticularly in connection with music, but in terms of media it 
characterizes equally painting and architecture. The recurrence 
of relations—not of elements—in different contexts, which com 
stitutes transposition is qualitative and hence is directly experi 
enced in perception. 

The progress—which is not necessarily an advance and, 
practically never an advance in all respects—of the arts display 
a transition from more obvious to subtler means of expressing 
position. In earlier literature position was in accord (as we have 
already noted in another connection) with social convention and 
economic and political class. It was position in the sense of social 
status that fixed the force of place in the older tragedy. Distance 



212 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


was already determined outside the drama. In modern drama, 
with Ibsen as the outstanding example, relations of husband and 
wife, politician and democratic citizenship, old age and encroach¬ 
ing youth (whether by way of competition or of seductive attrac¬ 
tion), contrasts of external convention and personal impulse, 
forcibly express energy of position. 

The bustle and ado of modern life render nicety of plac¬ 
ing the feature most difficult for artists to achieve. Tempo is too 
rapid and incidents too crowded to permit of decisiveness—a 
defect found in architecture, drama, and fiction alike. The very 
profusion of materials and the mechanical force of activities get 
in the way of effective distribution. There is more of vehemence 
than of the intensity that is constituted by emphasis. When atten¬ 
tion lacks the remission that is indispensable to its operations, 
it becomes numb as protection against its recurrent overstimula¬ 
tion. Only occasionally do we find the problem solved—as it is 
in fiction in Mann's “Magic Mountain” and in architecture in the 
Bush Building in New York City. 

I have said that the three qualities of space and time 
reciprocally affect and qualify one another in experience. Space 
is inane save as occupied with active volumes. Pauses are holes 
when they do not accentuate masses and define figures as indi¬ 
viduals. Extension sprawls and finally benumbs if it does not 
interact with place so as to assume intelligible distribution. Mass 
is nothing fixed. It contracts and expands, asserts itself and 
yields, according to its relations to other spatial and enduring 
things. While we may view these traits from the standpoint of 
form, of rhythm, balance and organization, the relations which 
thought grasps as ideas are present as qualities in perception and 
they inhere in the very substance of art. 

There are then common properties of the matter of arts be¬ 
cause there are general conditions without which an experience is 
not possible. As we saw earlier, the basic condition is felt rela¬ 
tionship between doing and undergoing as the organism and en¬ 
vironment interact. Position expresses the poised readiness of the 
live creature to meet the impact of surrounding forces, to meet so 
as to endure and to persist, to extend or expand through under¬ 
going the very forces that, apart from its response, are indifferent 
and hostile. Through going out into the environment, position 



THE COMMON SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 213 

unfolds into volume; through the pressure of environment, mass 
Is retracted into energy of position, and space remains, when mat¬ 
ter is contracted, as an opportunity for further action. Distinction 
of elements and consistency of members in a whole are the func¬ 
tions that define intelligence; the intelligibility of a work of art de¬ 
pends upon the presence to the meaning that renders individuality 
of parts and their relationship in the whole directly present to the 
eye and ear trained in perception. 



CHAPTER X 


THE VARIED SUBSTANCE 
OF THE ARTS 


A RT is a quality of doing and of what is done. Only outwardly, 
A\then, can it be designated by a noun substantive. Since it 
adheres to the manner and content of doing, it is adjectival in 
nature. When we say that tennis-playing, singing, acting, and a 
multitude of other activities are arts, we engage in an elliptical 
way of saying that there is art in the conduct of these activities, 
and that this art so qualifies what is done and made as to induce 
activities in those who perceive them in which there is also art. 
The product of art—temple, painting, statue, poem—is not the 
work of art. The work takes place when a human being cooperates 
with the product so that the outcome is an experience that is 
enjoyed because of its liberating and ordered properties. Estheti- 
cally at least 

"... we receive but what we give, 

And in our life alone does nature live; 

Ours is her wedding garment; ours her shroud 

If “art” denoted objects, if it were genuinely a noun, art- 
objects could be marked off into different classes. Art would then 
be divided into genera and these subdivided into species. This 
sort of division was applied to animals as long as they were be¬ 
lieved to be things fixed in themselves. But the system of classifi¬ 
cation had to change when they were discovered to be differentia¬ 
tion in a stream of vital activity. Qassifications became genetic, 
designating as accurately as may be the special place of par¬ 
ticular forms in the continuity of life on earth. If art is an intrinsic 
quality of activity, we cannot divide and subdivide it. We can 
only follow the differentiation of the activity into different modes 
as it impinges on different materials and employs different media. 

214 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 21$ 


Qualities as qualities do not lend themselves to division. 
It would be impossible to name the subordinate sorts of even 
sweet and sour. In the end such an attempt would be compelled 
to enumerate every thing in the world that is sweet or sour, so 
that the alleged classification would be merely a catalogue that 
idly reduplicates in the form of “qualities” what was previously 
known in the form of things. For quality is concrete and ex¬ 
istential, and hence varies with individuals since it is impregnated 
with their uniqueness. We may indeed speak of red, and then of 
the red of rose or sunset. But these terms are practical in nature, 
giving a certain amount of direction as to where to turn. In ex¬ 
istence no two sunsets have exactly the same red. They could not 
have it unless one sunset repeated the other in absolutely com¬ 
plete detail. For the red is always the red of the material of that 
experience. 

Logicians for certain purposes regard qualities like red, 
sweet, beautiful, etc., as universal. As formal logicians, they are 
not concerned with existential matters which are precisely what 
artists are concerned with. A painter knows, therefore, that there 
are no two reds in a picture exactly like each other, each being 
affected by the infinite detail of its context in the individual 
whole in which it appears. “Red” when used to signify “redness” 
in general is a handle, a mode of approach, a delimitation of action 
within a given region, such as buying red paint for a bam where 
any red within limits will do, or for matching a sample in buying 
goods. 

Language comes infinitely short of paralleling the varie¬ 
gated surface of nature. Yet words as practical devices are the 
agencies by which the ineffable diversity of natural existence as 
it operates in human experience is reduced to orders, ranks, and 
classes that can be managed. Not only is it impossible that lan¬ 
guage should duplicate the infinite variety of individualized quail, 
ties that exist, but it is wholly undesirable and unneeded that it 
should do so. The unique quality of a quality is found in ex¬ 
perience itself; it is there and sufficiently there not to need 
reduplication in language. The latter serves its scientific or 
its intellectual purpose as it gives directions as to how to come 
upon these qualities in experience. The more generalized and 
simple the direction the better. The more uselessly detailed they 



216 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


are, the more they confuse instead of guiding. But words serve 
their poetic purpose in the degree in which they summon and 
^voke into active operation the vital responses that are present 
whenever we experience qualities. 

A poet has recently said that poetry seemed to him “more 
physical than intellectual,” and he goes on to say that he recog¬ 
nizes poetry by physical symptoms such as bristling of the skin, 
shivers in the spine, constriction of the throat, and a feeling in 
the pit of the stomach like Keats’ “spear going through me.” I 
do not suppose that Mr. Housman means that these feelings are 
the poetical effect. To be a thing and to be a sign of its presence 
are different modes of being. But just such feelings, and what 
other writers have called organic “clicks”, are the gross indication 
of complete organic participation, while it is the fullness and im¬ 
mediacy of this participation that constitutes the esthetic quality 
of an experience, just as it is that which transcends the intellec¬ 
tual. For this reason, 1 should question the literal truth of the 
saying that poetry is more physical than intellectual. But that 
it is more than intellectual, because it absorbs the intellectual 
into immediate qualities that are experienced through senses that 
belong to the vital body, seems to me so indubitable as to justify 
the exaggeration contained in the saying as against the idea that 
qualities are universal intuited through the intellect. 

The fallacy of definition is the other side of the fallacy of 
rigid classification, and of abstraction when it is made an end in it¬ 
self instead of being used as an instrument for the sake of experi¬ 
ence. A definition is good when it is sagacious, and it is that when 
it so points the direction in which we can move expeditiously toward 
having an experience. Physics and chemistry have learned by the 
inward necessity of their tasks that a definition is that which 
indicates to us how things are made, and in so far enables to 
predict their occurrence, to test for their presence and, sometimes, 
to make them ourselves. Theorists and literary critics have lagged 
far behind. They are still largely in thralls to the ancient meta¬ 
physics of essence according to which a definition, if it is “cor¬ 
rect,” discloses to us some inward reality that causes the thing 
to be what it is as a member of a species that is eternally fixed. 
Then the species is declared to be more real than an individual, 
or rather to be itself the true individual 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 217 


For practical purposes we think in terms of classes, as we 
concretely experience in terms of individuals. Thus a layman 
would probably suppose that it is a simple matter to define a 
vowel. But a phonetician is compelled by intimate contact with 
actual subject-matter to recognize that a strict definition, strict 
in the sense of marking off one class of things from others in 
every respect, is an illusion. There are only a number of more 
or less useful definitions; useful, because directing attention to 
significant tendencies in the continuous process of vocalization— 
tendencies that if carried to a limit of discreteness would yield 
this or that “exact” definition. 

William James remarked on the tediousness of elaborate 
classification of things that merge and vary as do human emo¬ 
tions. Attempts at precise and systematic classification of fine arts 
seem to me to share this tediousness. An enumerative classifica¬ 
tion is convenient and for purposes of easy reference indispensable. 
But a cataloguing like painting, statuary, poetry, drama, dancing, 
landscape gardening, architecture, singing, musical instrumenta¬ 
tion, etc., etc., makes no pretense to throwing any light on the 
intrinsic nature of things listed. It leaves that illumination to 
come from the only place it can come from—individual works of 
art 

Rigid classifications are inept (if they are taken seriously) 
because they distract attention from that which is esthetically 
basic—the qualitatively unique and integral character of experi¬ 
ence of an art product. But for a student of esthetic theory they 
are also misleading. There are two important points of intellectual 
understanding in which they are confusing. They inevitably 
neglect transitional and connecting links; and in consequence 
they put insuperable obstacles in the way of an intelligent follow¬ 
ing of the historical development of any art. 

One classification which has had some vogue is according to 
sense-organs. We shall see later what element of truth may reside 
in this mode of division. But taken literally and rigidly, it cannot 
possibly yield a coherent result. Recent writers have dealt ade¬ 
quately with Kant’s effort to limit the material of the arts to the 
“higher” intellectual senses, eye and ear, and I shall not repeat 
their convincing arguments. But, when the range of senses is 
extended in the most catholic manner, it still remains true that a 



218 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


particular sense is simply the outpost of a total organic activity 
in which all organs, including the functioning of the autonomic 
system, participate. Eye, ear, touch, take the lead in a particular 
organic enterprise, but they are no more the exclusive or even 
always the most important agent than a sentinel is a whole army. 

A particular example of the confusion worked by division 
into arts of the eye and ear is found in the case of poetry. Poems 
were once the work of bards. Poetry as far as we know had no 
existence outside the spoken voice appealing to the ear. It was 
something sung or chanted. It is hardly necessary to say how 
far away the great mass of poetry has got from song since the 
invention of writing and of printing. There are even attempts at 
present to use the device of figures made by printed forms to 
intensify the sense of a poem as it strikes the eye—like the tail 
of the mouse in “Alice in Wonderland.” But apart from any 
exaggeration, while the heard “music” of silently read poetry 
is still a factor (illustrating the point made in the last paragraph), 
poetry as a mode of literature is now outwardly and sensibly 
visual. Has it then migrated from one “class” to another in the 
last two thousand years? 

Then there is the classification into arts of space and time 
that has already been mentioned. Now even if this division were 
correct, it is one made after the event and from the outside, and 
throws no light upon the esthetic content of any work of art. It 
does not aid perception; it does not tell what to look for, nor 
how to see, hear, and enjoy. It has, moreover, a positive serious 
defect. As was previously pointed out, it denies rhythm to archi¬ 
tectural structures, statues and paintings, and symmetry to song, 
poetry, and eloquence. And the implication of the denials is re¬ 
fusal to acknowledge the thing most fundamental to esthetic ex¬ 
perience—that it is perceptual. The division is made on the basis 
of traits of art products as external and physical existences. 

A writer on the fine arts in one edition of the “Encyclo¬ 
pedia Britannica” illustrates this fallacy so beautifully as to make 
it pertinent to quote a passage. In justifying the division of the 
arts into spatial and temporal, he says, in speaking of a statue 
and building: “What the eye sees from any point of view it sees 
all at once; in other words, the parts of anything we see fill or 
occupy not time but space, and reach us from various points in 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 219 


space at a single instantaneous perception.” And it is added: 
“Their products (that is, of the arts of sculpture and architec¬ 
ture) are in themselves solid, stationary, and permanent.” 

A number of ambiguities and resulting misconceptions are 
crowded into these few sentences. First, as to the “all-at-once.” 
Any object in space (and all objects are spatial) sends out vibra¬ 
tions all at once, and the physical parts of the object occupy space 
all at once. But these traits of the object have nothing to say or 
do in distinguishing one kind of perception from another. Space 
occupancy is a general condition of the existence of anything— 
even of a ghost if there be one. It is a causal condition for having 
any and every “sensation.” Similarly vibrations sent out from an 
object are causal conditions of every kind of perception; accord¬ 
ingly they do not mark out one kind of perception from others. 

Thus at most what “reaches us simultaneously” is the 
physical conditions of a perception, not the constituents of the 
object as perceived. Inference is made to the latter only through 
confusion of “simultaneous” with “single.” Of course, all the 
impressions that reach us from any object or event must be inte¬ 
grated into one perception. The only alternative to singleness of 
perception, whether the object be one in space or time, is a dis¬ 
connected succession of snap-shots that do not even form cross- 
sections of anything. The difference between that elusive and 
fragmentary thing psychologists call a sensation and a perception 
is the singleness, the integrated unity, of the latter. Simultaneity 
of both physical existence and physiological reception have noth¬ 
ing to do with this singleness. As was just indicated, they can be 
taken to be identical only when the causal conditions of a percep¬ 
tion are confused with the actual content of the perception. 

But the fundamental mistake is the confusion of the phys¬ 
ical product with the esthetic object, which is that which is 
perceived. Physically, a statue is a block of marble, nothing more. 
It is stationary, and, as far as the ravages of time permit, perma¬ 
nent. But to identify the physical lump with the statue that is 
a work of art and to identify pigments on a canvas with a picture 
is absurd. What about the play of light on a building with the 
constant change of shadows, intensities, and colors, and shifting 
reflections? If the building or statue were as “stationary” in per* 
ception as it is in physical existence, they would be so dead that 



220 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


the eye would not rest on it, but glance by. For an object is per¬ 
ceived by a cumulative series of interactions. The eye as the master 
organ of the whole being produces an undergoing, a return effect; 
this calls out another act of seeing with new allied supplementa¬ 
tions with another increment of meaning and value, and so on, 
in a continuous building-up of the esthetic object. What is called 
the inexhaustibility of a work of art is a function of this con¬ 
tinuity of the total act of perceiving. “Simultaneous vision” is an 
excellent definition of a perception so little esthetic that it is not 
even a perception. 

Architectural structures provide, I should imagine, the 
perfect reductio ad absurdutn of the separation of space and time 
in works of art. If anything exists in the mode of “space-occu¬ 
pancy,” it is a building. But even a small hut cannot be the 
matter of esthetic perception save as temporal qualities enter in. 
A cathedral, no matter how large, makes an instantaneous im¬ 
pression. A total qualitative impression emanates from it as soon 
as it interacts with the organism through the visual apparatus. 
But this is only the substratum and framework within which a 
continuous process of interactions introduces enriching and de¬ 
fining elements. The hasty sightseer no more has an esthetic 
vision of Saint Sophia or the Cathedral of Rouen than the motorist 
traveling at sixty miles an hour sees the flitting landscape. One 
must move about, within and without, and through repeated visits 
let the structure gradually yield itself to him in various lights and 
in connection with changing moods. 

I may appear to have dwelt at unnecessary length upon 
a not very important statement. But the implication of the pas¬ 
sage quoted affects the whole problem of art as experience. An 
instantaneous experience is an impossibility, biologically and psy¬ 
chologically. An experience is a product, one might almost say 
a by-product, of continuous and cumulative interaction of an 
organic self with the world. There is no other foundation upon 
which esthetic theory and criticism can build. When an indi¬ 
vidual does not permit this process to work itself out fully, he 
begins at the point of arrest to supplant experience of the work 
of art with unrelated private notions. What ails much esthetic 
theory and criticism is accurately described in the following: 
“When the continuously unfolding process of cumulative inter- 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 221 


action and its result are neglected, an object is seen in only a 
part of its totality, and the rest of theory becomes subjective 
reverie, instead of a growth. It is arrested after the first per¬ 
ception of partial detail; the rest of the process is exclusively 
cerebral—a one-sided affair that acquires momentum only from 
within. It does not include that stimulation from environment 
that would displace revery by interaction with the self.” * 

In any case, the division of the arts into spatial and 
temporal has to be eked out by another classification, that into 
representative and non-representative, a division within which 
architecture and music are now assigned to the latter genus. 
Aristotle, who gave the conception that art is representative 
its classic formation, at least avoided the dualism of this division. 
He took the concept of imitation more generously and more in¬ 
telligently. Thus he declares that music is the most representative 
of all the arts—this being the very one that some modern theorists 
refer to the wholly non-representative class. Nor did he mean 
anything so silly as that music represents the twittering of birds, 
lowing of cows and gurgling of brooks. He meant that music 
reproduces by means of sounds the affections, the emotional im¬ 
pressions, that are produced by martial, sad, triumphant, sexually 
orgasmic, objects and scenes. Representation in the sense of ex¬ 
pression covers all the qualities and values of any possible esthetic 
experience. 

Architecture is not representative if we understand by 
that term reproduction of natural forms for the sake of their 
reproduction—as some have supposed that cathedrals “represent” 
high trees in a forest. But architecture does more than merely 
utilize natural forms, arches, pillars, cylinders, rectangles, por¬ 
tions of spheres. It expresses their characteristic effect upon the 
observer. Just what a building would be which did not use and 
represent the natural energies of gravity, stress, thrust, and so 
on, must be left to those to explain who regard architecture as 
nonrepresentative. But architecture does not combine representa¬ 
tion to these qualities of matter and energy. It expresses also 
enduring values of collective human life. It “represents” the 
memories, hopes, fears, purposes, and sacred values of those who 
build in order to shelter a family; provide an altar for the gods, 

* From a personal letter of Dr. Barnes to the author. 



222 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


establish a place in which to make laws, or set up ar stronghold 
against attack. Just why buildings are called palaces, castles, 
homes, city-halls, forums, is a mystery if architecture is not su¬ 
premely expressive of human interests and values. Apart from 
cerebral reveries, it is self-evident that every important structure 
is a treasury of storied memories and a monumental registering of 
cherished expectancies for the future. 

Moreover, the separation of architecture (music, too, for 
that matter) from such arts as painting and sculpture makes a 
mess of the historical developments of the arts. Sculpture (which 
is acknowledged to be representative) was for ages an organic 
part of architecture: witness the frieze of the Parthenon, the 
carvings of the cathedrals of Lincoln and Chartres. Nor can it 
be said that its growing independence of architecture—with 
statues scattered in parks and public squares and busts placed on 
pedestals in rooms already overcrowded—has coincided with any 
advance in the art of sculpture. Painting was first adherent to 
the walls of caves. It long continued to be a decorative effect of 
temples and palaces, without and on inner walls. Frescoes were 
meant to inspire faith, revive piety and instruct the worshiper 
concerning the saints, heroes, and martyrs of his religion. When 
Gothic buildings left little wall space for murals, stained glass 
and later panel paintings took their place—still as much parts of 
an architectural whole as were carvings on altar and reredos. 
When nobles and merchant princes began the collection of paint¬ 
ings on canvas, they were used to decorate walls—so much so 
that they were frequently cut and trimmed to make them fit better 
the purpose of wall ornamentation. Music was associated with 
song, and its differentiated modes were adapted to the needs of 
great crises and important events—death, marriage, war, worship, 
feasting. With the passage of time, both painting and music have 
ceased to be subservient to special ends. Since all the arts have 
tended to exploit their own media to the point of independence, 
the fact can be better used to prove that none of the arts is 
literally imitative than to furnish a reason for drawing hard and 
fast lines between them. 

Moreover, as soon as lines have been drawn, the theorists 
who institute them find it necessary to make exceptions and intro¬ 
duce transitional forms and even to say that some arts are 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 223 

mixed—dancing, for example, being both spatial and temporal. 
Since it is the nature of any art object to be itself, single and 
unified, this notion of a “mixed” art may be safely regarded as 
a reductio ad absurdum of the whole rigid classificatory business. 
What can such classifications make out of sculpture in relief, 
high and low, of marble figures on tombs, carved on wooden doors 
and cast in bronze doors? What about carvings of capitals, friezes, 
cornices, canopies, brackets? How do the minor arts fit in, work¬ 
ings in ivory, alabaster, plaster-paris, terra-cotta, silver and gold, 
ornamental iron work in brackets, signs, hinges, screens and 
grills? Is the same music nonrepresentative when played in a con¬ 
cert hall and representative when it is part of a sacramental 
service in a church? 


THE attempt at rigid classification and definition is not con¬ 
fined to the arts. A like method has beer applied to esthetic 
effects. Much ingenious effort has been spent in enumerating the 
different species of beauty after beauty itself has had its “essence” 
set forth: the sublime, grotesque, tragic, comic, poetic, and so on. 
Now there are undoubtedly realities to which such terms apply— 
as proper names are used in connection with different members 
of a family. It is possible for a qualified person to say things 
about the sublime, eloquent, poetic, humorous, that enhance 
and clarify perception of objects in the concrete. It may help in 
seeing a Giorgione to possess in advance a definite sense of what 
it is to be lyric; and in listening to Beethoven’s major theme 
in the “Fifth Symphony” to come to it with a clear conception 
of what force is and is not in the arts. But, unfortunately, esthetic 
theory has not been content with clarifying qualities as mat¬ 
ter of emphasis in individual wholes. It erected adjectives 
into nouns substantive, and then played dialectical tunes upon 
the fixed concepts which emerge. Since rigid conceptualization 
is compelled to take place on the basis of principles and ideas 
that are framed outside of direct esthetic experience, all such 
performances afford good samples of “cerebral revery.” 

If, however, we regard such terms as picturesque, sublime, 
poetic, ugly, tragic, as marking tendencies , and hence as ad¬ 
jectival as are the terms, pretty, sugary, convincing, we shall be 



224 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


led back to the fact that art is a quality of activity. Like any 
mode of activity, it is marked by movement in this direction and 
that. These movements may be discriminated in such fashion that 
our relation to the activity in question is rendered more intelli¬ 
gent. A tendency, a movement, occurs within certain limits which 
define its direction. But tendencies of experience do not have 
limits that are exactly fixed or that are mathematical lines with¬ 
out breadth and thickness. Experience is too rich and complex to 
permit such precise limitation. The termini of tendencies are 
bands not lines, and the qualities that characterize them form a 
spectrum instead of being capable of distribution in separate 
pigeonholes. 

Thus any one can select passages of literature and say 
without hesitation this is poetic, that is prosaic. But this assigning 
of qualities does not imply that there is one entity called poetry 
and another called prose. It implies, once more, a felt quality of 
a movement towara a limit. Hence the quality exists in many 
degrees and forms. Some of its lesser degrees manifest themselves 
in unexpected places. Dr. Helen Parkhurst quotes the following 
from a weather report: “Low pressure prevails west of the Rocky 
Mountains, in Idaho and south of the Columbia River as far as 
Nevada. Hurricane conditions continue along the Mississippi 
Valley and into the Gulf of Mexico. Blizzards are reported in 
North Dakota and Wyoming, snow and hail in Oregon and zero 
temperature in Missouri. High winds are blowing southeast¬ 
ward from the West Indies and shipping along the coast of Brazil 
has received a warning.” 

No one would say that the passage is poetry. But only 
pedantic definition will deny that there is something poetic about 
it, due in part to the euphony of the geographical terms, and more 
to “transferred values”; to accumulation of allusions that create 
a sense for the wide spaciousness of the earth, the romance of 
distant and strange countries, and above all the mystery of the 
varied turmoil of the forces of nature in hurricane, blizzard, hail, 
snow, cold, and tempest. The intention is a prosaic statement of 
weather conditions. But the words are charged with a load that 
gives them an impulsion toward the poetic. I suppose that even 
equations composed of chemical symbols may under certain cir¬ 
cumstances of an extension of insight into nature have for some 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 


225 


persons a poetic value, though in such cases the effect is limited 
and idiosyncratic. But that experiences having different materials 
and different movements toward different kinds of conclusions will 
have differences that at the poles are as far apart as the baldly 
prosaic and the excitedly poetic, is guaranteed in advance to hap¬ 
pen. For in some cases the tendency is in the direction of fulfill¬ 
ment of an experience as an experience, while in other cases the 
result moved toward is but a deposit for use in another experience. 

Examination of the literature regarding the comic and 
humorous will show, I think, the same two facts. On one hand, 
incidental and side remarks make clearer some particular tendency 
and make the reader more alive and discriminating in actual 
situations. These instances will be identical with cases where an 
adjectival quality, a tendency, is under survey. But there are 
elaborate and painful efforts to establish a rigid definition illus¬ 
trated by a collection of cases. How can any classification of genus 
and species reduce to conceptual unity such a variety of tendencies 
as are indicated by even a few of the terms in use: Laughable, 
ridiculous, ribald, amusing, funny, mirthful, farcical, diverting, 
witty, hilarious; joking, fooling, making fun of, making sport of, 
mocking, letting-down? Of course with sufficient ingenuity one 
may start from a definition, like incongruity, or from a sense of 
logic and proportion working in reverse, and then find a specific 
differentia for each variety. But it should be evident that we are 
then attending a dialectical game. 

If we confine ourselves to one aspect alone, the ridiculous, 
le rire, the comic is what we laugh at. But we also laugh with; we 
laugh from elation, sheer high spirits, geniality, conviviality, from 
scorn and from embarrassment. Why confine all these variations 
of tendency in a single hard and fast concept? Not that concep¬ 
tions are not the heart of thinking, but that their real office is 
as instruments of approach to the changing play of concrete 
material, not to tie that material down into rigid immobility. Since 
it is the incidental material rather than the formal definitions that 
acts as reenforcements of perception in particular experience, the 
side remarks exercise the real office of conception. 

Finally, on this point, the notion of fixed classes and that 
of fixed rules inevitably accompany each other. If there are, for 
example, so many separate genres in literature, then there is some 



226 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


immutable principle which marks off each kind and which defines 
an inherent essence that makes each species what it is. This prin¬ 
ciple must then be conformed to; otherwise the “nature” that 
belongs to the art will be violated and “bad” art will be the result. 
Instead of being free to do what he can with the material at hand 
and the media under his control, the artist is bound, under penalty 
of rebuke from the critic who knows the rules, to follow the 
precepts that flow from the basic principle. Instead of observing 
subject-matter, he observes rules. Thus classification sets limits 
to perception. If the theory that underlies it is influential, it re¬ 
stricts creative work. For new works, in the degree in which they 
are new, do not fit into pigeonholes already provided. They are 
in the arts what heresies are in theology. There are obstructions 
enough in any case in the way of genuine expression. The rules 
that attend classification add one more handicap. The philosophy 
of fixed classification as far as it has vogue among critics (who 
whether they know it or not are subjects of one or other of the 
positions that philosophers have formulated more definitely) en¬ 
courages all artists, save those of unusual vigor and courage, to 
make “safety first” their guiding principle. 


THE tenor of the foregoing is not so negative as might seem at 
first sight. For it calls attention in an indirect way to the im¬ 
portance of media and to their inexhaustible variety. We may 
safely start any discussion of the varied matter of the arts with 
this fact of the decisive importance of the medium: with the fact 
that different media have different potencies and are adapted to 
different ends. We do not make bridges with putty nor use the 
most opaque things we can find to serve as window-panes to trans¬ 
mit sunlight. This negative fact alone compels differentiation in 
works of art. On the positive side, it suggests that color does 
something characteristic in experience and sound something else; 
sounds of instruments something different from the sound of 
the human voice and so on. At the same time it reminds us that 
the exact limits of the efficacy of any medium cannot be deter¬ 
mined by any d priori rule, and that every great initiator in art 
breaks down some barrier that had previously been supposed to 
be inherent. If, moreover, we establish the discussion on the basis 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 227 


of media, we recognize that they form a continuum, a spectrum, 
and that while we may distinguish arts as we distinguish the seven 
so-called primary colors, there is no attempt to tell exactly where 
one begins and the other ends; and also that if we take one color 
out of its context, say a particular band of red, it is no longer the 
same color it was before. 

When we view the arts from the standpoint of media of 
expression, the broad distinction that confronts us is between the 
arts that have the human organism, the mind-body, of the artist 
as their medium and those which depend to a much greater extent 
upon materials external to the body: automatic and shaping arts 
so-called.* Dancing, singing, yarn-spinning—the prototype of the 
literary arts in connection with song—are examples of “auto¬ 
matic” arts, and so are bodily scarifications, tattooings, etc., and 
the cultivation of the body by the Greeks in games and gymnasia. 
Cultivation of voice, posture, and gesture that adds grace to social 
intercourse is another. 

Since the shaping arts must at first have been identified 
with technological arts, they were associated with work and with 
some degree, even if slight, of external pressure in contrast with 
automatic arts as spontaneous, free accompaniments of leisure. 
Therefore, the Greek thinkers ranked them as higher than those 
which subordinated the use of the body to deal with external 
materials by the intermediation of instruments. Aristotle reckons 
the sculptor and the architect—even if of the Parthenon—as 
craftsmen rather than as artists in the liberal sense. Modem 
taste tends to reckon as higher the fine arts that reshape ma¬ 
terial, where the product is enduring instead of fugitive, and 
is capable of appealing to a wide circle, including the unborn, in 
contrast with the limitation of singing, dancing, and oral story¬ 
telling to an immediate audience. 

But all rankings of higher and lower are, ultimately, out 
of place and stupid. Each medium has its own efficacy and value. 
What we can say is that the products of the technological arts 
become fine in the degree in which they carry over into them¬ 
selves something of the spontaneity of the automatic arts. Except 
in the case of work done by machines, mechanically tended by an 

* Santayana, in his “Reason in Art,” was the first, I think, to make 
clear the importance of this distinction. 



228 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


operator, the movements of the individual body enter into all 
reshapings of material. When these movements carry over in 
dealings with physically external matters the organic push from 
within of an automatic art, they become, in so far, “fine.” Some¬ 
thing of the rhythm of vital natural expression, something as it 
were of dancing and pantomime, must go into carving, painting, 
and making statues, planning buildings, and writing stories; which 
is one more reason for the subordination of technique to form. 

Even in the case of this broad distinction of the arts, we 
are in the presence of a spectrum rather than of separate classes. 
Cadenccd speech would not have developed far in the direction 
of music without the assistance of reed, string and drum, and the 
assistance is not external, since it modified the matter of song 
itself. The history of musical forms is on one side the history 
of the invention of instruments and the practice of instrumenta¬ 
tion. That instruments are not mere vehicles, like a phonographic 
disc, but all media are, is evident in the way in which the piano, for 
example, operated in fixing the scale now in general use. Similarly 
print has acted—or reacted—to profoundly modify the substance 
of literature; modifying, by way of a single illustration, the very 
words that form the medium of literature. The change is indicated 
on the unfavorable side by the growing tendency to use “literary” 
as a term of disparagement. Spoken language was never “literary” 
till print and reading carpe into general use. But, on the other 
side, even if it be admitted that no single work of literature excels, 
say, the “Iliad” (though even that doubtless is the product of an 
organization of previously scattered matc'ials necessitated by 
writing and wider publication), yet print has made for an enor¬ 
mous extension not merely in bulk but in qualitative variety and 
subtlety, aside from compelling an organization that did not pre¬ 
viously exist. 

However, I have no desire to go into this matter further than 
to indicate that even in this broad differentiation of different arts 
into automatic and shaping, we are in the presence also of inter¬ 
mediate forms, transitions, and mutual influences, rather than 
of the compartments of a filing-case. The important thing is 
that a work of art exploit its medium to the uttermost—bearing 
in mind that material is not medium save when used as an organ 
of expression. The materials of nature and human association are 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 


229 


multifarious to the point of infinity. Whenever any material finds 
a medium that expresses its value in experience —that is, its imagi¬ 
native and emotional value- -it becomes the substance of a work 
of art. The abiding struggle of art is thus to convert materials 
that are stammering or dumb in ordinary experience into elo¬ 
quent media. Remembering that art itself denotes a quality of 
action and of things done, every authentic new work of art is 
in some degree itself the birth of a new art. 

I should say, then, there are two fallacies of interpretation 
in connection with the matter under discussion. One is to keep 
the arts wholly separate. The other is to run them altogether into 
one. The latter fallacy is found in the interpretation often given 
by critics who content themselves with the tag in quotation of 
Pater’s saying that all “arts constantly aspire to the condition 
of music.” I say interpretations rather than Pater himself, be¬ 
cause the complete passage shows that he did not mean that every 
art is developing to the point where it will give the same effect 
that music gives. He thought that music “most perfectly realizes 
the artistic ideal of complete union of form and matter.” This 
union is the “condition” to which other arts aspire. Whether he 
is correct or not in holding that music does most perfectly realize 
this interfusion of substance and form, there should not be im¬ 
puted to him the other idea. For, among other things, it is plainly 
false. Since he wrote, both painting and music itself have moved 
in the direction of the architectonic and away from the “musical” 
in its limited sense: so, to a considerable extent, has poetry as 
well as painting. And it is worth noting that Pater speaks of 
every art passing into the condition of some other, music having 
figures, “curves, geometrical forms, weaving.” 

In short what I should like to bring out is that such words 
as poetic, architectural, dramatic, sculptural, pictorial, literary— 
in the sense of designating the quality best effected by literature 
—designate tendencies that belong in some degree to every art, 
because they qualify any complete experience, while, however, 
a particular medium is best adapted to making that strain em¬ 
phatic. When the effect appropriate to one medium becomes too 
marked in the use of another medium, there is esthetic defect. 
When, therefore, I use the names of arts as nouns in what fol¬ 
lows. it will be understood that I have in mind a ranee of objects 



230 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


that express a certain quality emphatically but not exclusively. 

The trait that characterizes architecture in an emphatic 
sense is that its media are the (relatively) raw materials of na¬ 
ture and of the fundamental modes of natural energy. Its effects 
are dependent upon features that belong in dominant measure 
to just these materials. All of the “shaping” arts bend natural 
materials and forms of energy to serve some human desire. There 
is nothing distinctive in architecture with respect to this general 
fact. But it is singularly marked off with respect to the scope 
and directness of its use of natural forces. Compare buildings with 
other artistic products and you are at once struck by the indefi¬ 
nitely wide range of materials it adopts to its ends—wood, stone, 
steel, cement, burnt clay, glass, rushes, cement, as compared 
with the relatively restricted number of materials available in 
painting, sculpture, poetry. But equally important is the fact that 
it takes these materials, so to speak, neat. It employs materials 
not only on a grand scale but at first hand—not that steel and 
bricks are furnished directly by nature but that they are closer 
to nature than are pigments and musical instruments. If there 
is any doubt about this fact, there is none about its use of the 
energies of nature. No other products exhibit stresses and strains, 
thrusts and counterthrusts, gravity, light, cohesion, on a scale 
at all comparable to the architectural, and it takes these forces 
more directly, less mediately and vicariously, than does any other 
art. It expresses the structural constitution of nature itself. Its 
connection with engineering is inevitable. 

For this reason, buildings, among all art objects, come the 
nearest to expressing the stability and endurance of existence. They 
are to mountains what music is to the sea. Because of its inherent 
power to endure, architecture records and celebrates more than 
any other art the generic features of our common human life. 
There are those who, under the influence of theoretical preconcep¬ 
tions, regard the human values expressed in architecture es- 
thetically irrelevant, a mere unavoidable concession to utility. That 
buildings are esthetically the worse because they express the pomp 
of power, the majesty of government, the sweet pieties of domes¬ 
tic relations, the busy traffic of cities, and the adoration of 
worshipers is not apparent. That these ends enter organically 
into the structure of buildings seems too evident to permit of dis- 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 231 

cussion. That degradation to some special use often occurs and 
is artistically detrimental is equally clear. But the reason is the 
baseness of the end, or the fact that materials are not so handled 
express in a balanced way adaptation both to natural and human 
conditions. 

The complete elimination of human use (as by Schopen¬ 
hauer) illustrates the limitation of “use” to narrow ends and it 
depends upon ignoring the fact that fine art is always the product 
in experience of an interaction of human beings with their en¬ 
vironment. Architecture is a notable instance of the reciprocity 
of the results of this interaction. Materials are transformed so as 
to become media of the purposes of human defense, habitation, 
and worship. But human life itself is also made different, and 
this in ways far beyond the intent or capacity of foresight of those 
who constructed the buildings. The reshaping of subsequent 
experience by architectural works is more direct and more ex¬ 
tensive than in the case of any other art save perhaps literature. 
They not only influence the future, but they record and convey 
the past. Temples, colleges, palaces, homes, as well as ruins, tell 
what men have hoped and struggled for, what they have achieved 
and suffered. The desire of man to live on through his deeds, char¬ 
acteristic of the erection of pyramids, is found in less massive way 
in every architectural work. The quality is not confined to build¬ 
ings. For something architectural is found in every work of art 
in which there is manifest on a broad scale the harmonious mutual 
adaptation of enduring forces of nature with human need and 
purpose. The sense of structure cannot be dissociated from the 
architectonic, and the architectural exists in any work whether of 
music, literature, painting, or achitecture, in its specific mean¬ 
ing, wherein structural properties are strongly manifest. But in 
order to be esthetic, structure has to be more than physical 
and mathematical. It has to be used with the support, reenforce¬ 
ment, and extension, through enduring time, of human values. 
The appropriateness of clinging ivy to some buildings illustrates 
that intrinsic unity of architectural effect with nature which is 
seen on a larger scale in the necessity that buildings fit naturally 
into their surroundings to secure full esthetic effect. But this 
unconscious vital union must be paralleled by an equal absorption 
of human values into the complete experienced effect of the build- 



232 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


ing. The ugliness, for example, of most factory buildings and 
the hideousness of the ordinary bank building, while it depends 
upon structural defects on the technically physical side, reflects as 
well a distortion of human values, one incorporated in the ex¬ 
perience connected with the buildings. No mere technical skill 
can render such buildings beautiful as temples once were. First 
there must occur a humane transformation so that these struc¬ 
tures will spontaneously express a harmony of desires and needs 
that does not now exist. 

Sculpture, as we have already noted, is closely allied with 
architecture. I think it is open to doubt whether the sculptural 
dissociated from the architectural ever will reach great esthetic 
heights. It is difficult not to feel something incongruous in the 
single and isolated statue in the public square or park. Surely 
statues are most successful when they are massive, monumental, 
and have something approaching an architectural context, even 
though it be but an expansive bench. Sculpture may include a 
number, a great number of different figures, as in the Elgin mar¬ 
bles. But imagine these figures intended collectively to represent a 
single action and yet physically detached from one another, and 
you summon up an image that evokes a smile. Yet there are dif¬ 
ferences that mark off the sculptural effect from the architectural. 

Sculpture selects for emphasis the recording and monu¬ 
mental aspect of architecture. It specializes, so to say, upon the 
memorial. Buildings enter into and help shape and direct life 
directly; statues and monuments, as they remind us of the hero¬ 
ism, devotion, and achievement of the past. The granite column, 
the pyramid, the obelisk, are sculptural; they are witnesses to 
the past, not, however, of subjection to the vicissitudes of time 
but of power to endure and rise above time—noble or pathetic 
manifestations of such immortality as belongs to mortals. The 
other distinction marks a more decisive difference. Both sculpture 
and architecture must possess and must express unity. But the 
unity of an architectural whole is that of Che convergence of a 
vast multitude of elements. The unity of sculpture is more single 
and defined—it is forced to be so if only by space. Only Negro 
sculpture has attempted, through sacrifice of all directly associated 
values, to give within a narrow compass the character of design 
that is inherent in an effective building, accomplishing it by means 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 


233 


of rhythm of lines, masses, and shapes. But even Negro sculpture 
has been compelled to observe the principle of singleness—the de¬ 
sign is built out of the connected parts of the human body: head, 
arms and legs, trunk. 

This singleness of material and of purpose (for even a 
specialized structure like a temple serves a complex of aims) 
makes it necessary for sculpture to limit itself to expression of 
materials that have a significant and readily perceived unity of 
their own. Living things only fulfill this condition—animals and 
man, or, when directly adherent to buildings, flowers, fruits, vines 
and other forms of vegetation. Architecture expresses the collec¬ 
tive life of man—the hermit, the lone soul, does not build but 
seeks a cave. Sculpture expresses life in its individualized forms. 
The respective emotional effects of the two arts correspond with 
this principle. Architecture is said to be “frozen music,” but emo¬ 
tionally this holds only of its dynamic structure, not of the effect 
of its substance. Upon the whole, its emotional effect is dependent 
upon or closely allied to human affairs in which the building 
participates. The Greek temple is too remote for us to experience 
much more than the effects of exquisite balance of natural forces. 
But it is impossible upon entering a medieval cathedral not to 
feel as part of it the uses to which it is historically put; even a 
westerner feels something of the same sort in entering a Buddhist 
temple. I would not use the word “borrowed” of the like effects 
that belong to experience of homes and public buildings, because 
the values are too completely incorporated to make that word 
applicable. But esthetic values in architecture are peculiarly de¬ 
pendent upon absorption of meanings drawn from collective hu¬ 
man life. 

The emotions aroused by sculpture are of necessity those 
belonging to what is defined and enduring—except when sculp¬ 
ture is used for illustrative purposes, a use congenial to the 
medium. For, while music and lyric poetry are intrinsically suited 
to express especial throbs and crises (like the occasions which 
evoke them), sculpture is anything but “occasional” in character, 
as little so as architecture. Sentiments of the vague, transient, and 
uncertain do not go well with the medium. Akin to the archi¬ 
tectural in this respect, it differs from it as, once more, the 
singular differs from the collective. What is said about art as 



234 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


union of the universal and individual is peculiarly true of sculp¬ 
ture; so much so that the idea that this union provides a formula 
for all works of art probably had its source in Greek statuary. 
Michael Angelo’s Moses is highly individualized, but it fa no 
more generic than it is episodic, for the “universal” is something 
quite different from the general. The attitude of the sculptured 
figure with its energetic but restrained forward impulsion ex¬ 
presses the leader who sees from afar the promised land he knows 
he will not enter. But it conveys, in a highly individualized 
value and feeling, the eternal disparity of aspiration and achieve¬ 
ment. 

Sculpture communicates the sense of movement with ex¬ 
traordinarily delicate energy—witness Greek dancing figures and 
the Winged Victory. But it is movement arrested in a single and 
enduring poise—as celebrated in the verses of Keats—not the 
vicissitudes of motion for which music fa the incomparable 
medium. A sense of time is an inalienable part of the nature of 
sculptural effect in its own or formal right. But it fa sense of time 
suspended, not in succession and lapse. In short, the emotions to 
which the medium fa best suited are finish, gravity, repose, balance, 
peace. Greek sculpture owes much of its effect to the fact that 
it expresses the idealized human form—so much so that its in¬ 
fluence upon subsequent sculpture has not been altogether happy, 
since it has overweighted European statues and busts, till very 
recently, with a tendency to expression of idealizations, which, 
except at the hands of masters in well-adjusted conditions (like 
those of Greece), tend to the pretty, trivial, and the illustration 
of wish fulfillments. To portray the human form in the guise of 
gods and semi-divine heroes is not an enterprise to be lightly 
undertaken. 

Even a child soon learns that it is through light that the 
world becomes visible. He learns it as soon as he connects the 
blotting out of scenes before him with the shutting of his eyes. 
Yet this truism, when its force fa apprehended, says more about 
the peculiar effect of color as the medium of painting than would 
volumes of verbal expatiation. For painting expresses nature and 
the human scene as a spectacle , and spectacles exist because of 
the interaction of the live being, centered through the eyes, with 
light, pure, reflected, and refracted into colors. The pictorial (in 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 235 


this sense) exists in the works of many arts. The play of light 
and shade is a vital factor in architecture, of sculpture that has 
not been too much enslaved to Greek models—and the coloring of 
their statues by the Greeks was perhaps a compensation. Prose 
and drama often attain the picturesque, and poetry the genu¬ 
inely pictorial, that is the communication of the visible scene of 
things. But in these arts, it is subdued and secondary. The effort 
to make it primary, as in “imagism,” doubtless taught poets some¬ 
thing new, but it was such a forcing of the medium that it could 
endure only as an emphasis, not as a dominant value. The obverse 
truth is the fact that, when paintings go beyond the scene and 
spectacle to tell a story, they become “literary.’* 

Because painting deals directly with the world as a “view,” 
a directly seen world, it is even less possible to discuss the prod¬ 
ucts of this art than of any other in the absence of objects. Pictures 
can express every object and situation capable of presentation as 
a scene. They can express the meaning of events when the latter 
provide a scene in which a past is summed up and a future indi¬ 
cated, provided the scene is sufficiently simple and coherent. 
Otherwise—as, for example, in Abbey’s pictures in the Public 
Library in Boston—it becomes a document. To say that it can 
present objects and situations is, however, so far short of its 
power as to be misleading, if we do not include the unrivaled abil¬ 
ity of paint to convey through the eye the qualities by which 
objects are distinguished and the aspects by which their very 
nature and constitution is established in perception—the fluidity 
of water, the solidity of rocks, the combined frailty and resistance 
of trees, the texture of clouds, and so through all the varied 
aspects by which we enjoy nature as a spectacle and an expres¬ 
sion. Because of the very reach of painting, an attempt to set 
forth the range of materials with which it deals would be to get 
involved in an endless cataloguing. It is enough that the aspects 
of the spectacle of nature are inexhaustible, and that every sig¬ 
nificant new movement in painting is the discovery and exploita¬ 
tion of some possibility of vision not previously developed—as 
Dutch painters grasped the intimate quality of interiors, forming 
a design in furnishings and perspectives; as Rousseau Douanier 
elicited the spatial rhythm of homely as well as exotic scenes; as 
Cezanne re-saw the volume of natural forces in their dynamic 



236 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


relations, the stability of wholes composed by just adaptations to 
one another of unstable parts. 

The ear and eye complement one another. The eye gives 
the scene in which things go on and on which changes are pro¬ 
jected—leaving it still a scene even amid tumult and turmoil. 
The ear, taking for granted the background furnished by co¬ 
operative action of vision and touch, brings home to us changes 
as changes. For sounds are always effects; effects of the clash, 
the impact and resistance, pf the forces of nature. They express 
these forces in terms of what they do to one another when they 
meet; the way they change one another, and change the things 
that are £he theater of their endless conflicts. The lapping of 
water, the murmur of brooks, the rushing and whistling of wind, 
the creaking of doors, the rustling of leaves, the swishing and 
cracking of branches, the thud of fallen objects, the sobs of 
depression and the shouts of victory—what are these, together 
with all noises and sounds, but immediate manifestation of 
changes brought about by the struggle of forces? Every stir of 
nature is effected by means of vibrations, but an even uninter¬ 
rupted vibration makes no sound; there must be interruption, 
impact, and resistance. 

Music, having sound as its medium, thus necessarily ex¬ 
presses in a concentrated way the shocks and instabilities, the 
conflicts and resolutions, that are the dramatic changes enacted 
upon the more enduring background of nature and human life. 
Tire tension and the struggle has its gatherings of energy, its 
discharges, its attacks and defenses, its mighty warrings and its 
peaceful meetings, its resistances and resolutions, and out of these 
things music weaves its web. It is thus at the opposite pole from 
the sculptural. As one expresses the enduring, the stable and uni¬ 
versal, so the other expresses stir, agitation, movement, the par¬ 
ticulars and contingencies of existences—which, nevertheless, are 
as ingrained in nature and as typical in experience as are its 
structural permanences. With only a background there would be 
monotony and death; with only change and movement there 
would be chaos, not even recognized as disturbed or disturbing. 
The structure of things yields and alters, but it does so in rhythms 
that are secular, while the things that catch the ear are the 
sudden, abrupt, and speedy in change. 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 237 

The connections of cerebral tissues with the ear constitute 
a larger part of the brain than those of any other sense. Recur to 
the live animal and the savage, and the import of this fact is not 
far to seek. It is a truism that the visible scene is evident; the idea 
of being clear, plain, is all one with being in view—in plain sight 
as we say. Things in plain view are not of themselves disturbing; 
the plain is the ex-plained. It connotes assurance, confidence; it 
provides the conditions favorable to formation and execution of 
plans. The eye is the sense of distance—not just that light comes 
from afar, but that through vision we are connected with what 
is distant and thus forewarned of what is to come. Vision gives the 
spread-out scene—that in and on which, as I have said, change 
takes place. The animal is watchful, wary, in visual perception, 
but it is ready, prepared. Only in a panic is what is seen deeply 
perturbing. 

The material to which the ear relates us through sound is 
opposite at every point. Sounds come from outside the body, but 
sound itself is near, intimate; it is an excitation of the organism; 
we feel the clash of vibrations throughout our whole body. Sound 
stimulates directly to immediate change because it reports a 
change. A foot-fall, the breaking of a twig, the rustling of under¬ 
brush may signify attack or even death from hostile animal or 
man. Its import is measured by the care animal and savage take 
to make no noise as they move. Sound is the conveyor of what 
impends, of what is happening as an indication of what is likely 
to happen. It is fraught much more than vision with the sense of 
issues; about the impending there is always an aura of indeter¬ 
minateness and uncertainty—all conditions favorable to intense 
emotional stir. Vision arouses emotion in the form of interest— 
curiosity solicits further examination, but it attracts; or it insti¬ 
tutes a balance between withdrawal and forward exploring action 
It is sounds that make us jump. 

Generically speaking, what is seen stirs emotion indirectly, 
through interpretation and allied idea. Sound agitates directly, 
as a commotion of the organism itself. Hearing and sight are 
often classed together as the two “intellectual” senses. In reality 
the intellectual range of hearing although enormous is acquired; 
in itself the ear is the emotional sense. Its intellectual scope and 
depth come from connection with speech; they are a secondary 



23S 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


and so to speak artificial achievement, due to the institution of 
language and conventional means of communication. Vision re¬ 
ceives its direct extension of meaning from connection with other 
senses, especially with touch. The difference works both ways. 
What is true of hearing on the intellectual side is true of seeing 
on the emotional. Architecture, sculpture, painting can stir emo¬ 
tion profoundly. The “right” farmhouse come upon in a certain 
mood may constrict the throat and make the eyes water as does 
a poetical passage. But the effect is because of a spirit and atmos¬ 
phere due to association with human life. Apart from the emo¬ 
tional effect of formal relations, the plastic arts arouse emotion 
through what they express. Sounds have the power of direct emo¬ 
tional expression. A sound is itself threatening, whining, sooth¬ 
ing, depressing, fierce, tender, soporific, in its own quality. 

Because of this immediacy of emotional effect, music has 
been classed as both the lowest and the highest of the arts. To 
some its direct organic dependence and resonances have seemed 
evidence that it is close to the life of animals; they can cite the 
fact that music of a considerable degree of complexity has been 
successfully performed by persons of subnormal intelligence. The 
appeal of music—of certain grades—is much more widespread, 
much more independent of special cultivation, than that of any 
other art. And one has only to observe some musical enthusiasts 
of a certain kind at a concert to see that they are enjoying an 
emotional debauch, a release from ordinary inhibitions and an 
entrance into a realm where excitations are given unrestricted rein 
—Havelock Ellis noting that musical performances are resorted 
to by some for obtaining sexual orgasms. On the other side, there 
are types of music, those most prized by connoisseurs, that 
demand special training to be perceived and enjoyed, and its 
devotees form a cult, so that their art is the most esoteric of 
all arts. 

Because of the connections of hearing with all parts of the 
organism, sound has more reverberations and resonances than any 
other sense. It is quite likely that the organic causes that render 
persons unmusical are due to breaks in these connections rather 
than to inherent defects in the auditory apparatus itself. What 
has been said in general about the power of an art to take a natu¬ 
ral, raw material and convert it, through selection and organi2a- 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 239 

tion, into an intensified and concentrated medium of building up 
an experience, applies with particular force to music. Through the 
use of instruments, sound is freed from the definiteness it has 
acquired through association with speech. It thus reverts to its 
primitive passional quality. It achieves generality, detachment 
from particular objects and events. At the same time, the organ¬ 
ization of sound effected through the multitude of means at the 
command of the artists—a wider range technically, perhaps, than 
of any other art save architecture-—deprives sound of its usual 
immediate tendency to stimulate a particular overt action. Re¬ 
sponses become internal and implicit, thus enriching the content 
of perception instead of being dispersed in overt discharge. “It 
is we ourselves who are tortured by the strings,” as Schopen¬ 
hauer says. 

It is the peculiarity of music, and indeed its glory, that 
it can take the quality of sense that is the most immediately and 
intensely practical of all the bodily organs (since it incites most 
strongly to impulsive action) and by use of formal relationships 
transform the material into the art that is most remote from 
practical preoccupations. It retains the primitive power of sound 
to denote the clash of attacking and resisting forces and all ac¬ 
companying phases of emotional movement. But by the use of 
harmony and melody of tone, it introduces incredibly varied com¬ 
plexities of question, uncertainty, and suspense wherein every 
tone is ordered in reference to others so that each is a summation 
of what precedes and a forecast of what is to come. 

In contrast with the arts so far mentioned, literature ex¬ 
hibits one unique trait. Sounds, which are directly or as sym¬ 
bolized in print, their medium, are not sounds as such, as in music, 
but sounds that have been subjected to transforming art before 
literature deals with them. For words exist before the art of let¬ 
ters and words have been formed out of raw sounds by the art 
of communication. It would be useless to try to sum up the ends 
that speech serves before literature as such exists—command, 
guidance, exhortation, instruction, warning. Only exclamation and 
interjections retain their native aspect as sounds. The art of liter¬ 
ature thus works with loaded dice; its material is charged with 
meanings they have absorbed through immemorial time. Its ma¬ 
terial thus has an intellectual force superior to that of any other 



240 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


art, while it equals the capacity of architecture to present the 
values of collective life. 

There is not the gap between raw material and material 
as medium in letters that there is in other arts. Moliere’s character 
did not know he had been talking prose all his life. So men in 
general are not aware that they have been exercising an art as 
long as they have engaged in spoken intercourse with others. One 
reason for the difficulty in drawing a line between prose and 
poetry is doubtless the fact that the matter of both has already 
undergone the transforming influence of art. Use of “literary” 
as a term of disparagement signifies that the more formal art has 
departed too far from the idiom of the prior art from which it 
draws its sustenance. All the “fine” arts in order not to become 
merely refined have to be renewed from time to time by closer 
contact with materials outside the esthetic tradition. But litera¬ 
ture in particular is the one most in need of constant refreshment 
from this source, since it has at command material already elo¬ 
quent, pregnant, picturesque, and general in its appeal, and yet 
most subject to convention and stereotype. 

Continuity of meaning and value is the essence of language. 
For it sustains a continuing culture. For this reason words carry 
an almost infinite charge of overtones and resonances. “Trans¬ 
ferred values” of emotions experienced from a childhood that 
cannot be consciously recovered belong to them. Speech is indeed 
the mother tongue. It is informed with the temperament and the 
ways of viewing and interpreting life that are characteristic of 
the culture of a continuing social group. Since science aims to 
speak a tongue from which these traits are eliminated, only scien¬ 
tific literature is completely translatable. All of us share to some 
extent in the privilege of the poets who 

“... speak the tongue 

That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold 
Which Milton held” 

For this continuity is not confined to letters in its written 
and printed form. The grandam telling stories of “once upon a 
time” to children at her knee passes on and colors the past; she 
prepares material for literature and may be herself an artist. The 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 241 

capacity of sounds to preserve and report the values of all the 
varied experiences of the past, and to follow with accuracy every 
changing shade of feeling and idea, confers upon their combine 
tions and permutations the power to create a new experience, 
oftentimes an experience more poignantly felt than that which 
comes from things themselves. Contacts with the latter would re¬ 
main on a merely physical plane of shock were it not that things 
have absorbed into themselves meanings developed in the art of 
communication. Intense and vivid realization of the meanings of 
the events and situations of the universe can be achieved only 
through a medium already instinct with meaning. The architec¬ 
tural, pictorial, and sculptural are always unconsciously sur¬ 
rounded and enriched by values that proceed from speech. It is 
impossible because of the nature of our organic constitution to 
exclude this effect. 

While there is no difference that may be exactly defined 
between prose and poetry, there is a gulf between the prosaic 
and poetic as extreme limiting terms of tendencies in experience. 
One of them realizes the power of words to express what is in 
heaven and earth and under the seas by means of extension; the 
other by intension. The prosaic is an affair of description and 
narration, of details accumulated and relations elaborated. It 
spreads as it goes like a legal document or catalogue. The poetic 
reverses the process. It condenses and abbreviates, thus giving 
words an energy of expansion that is almost explosive. A poem 
presents material so that it becomes a universe in itself, one, 
which, even when it is a miniature whole, is not embryonic any 
more than it is labored through argumentation. There is some* 
thing self-enclosed and self-limiting in a poem, and this self- 
sufficiency is the reason, as well as the harmony and rhythm of 
sounds, why poetry is, next to music, the most hypnotic of the 
arts. 

Every word in poetry is imaginative, as indeed it was in 
prose until words were rubbed down by attrition in use to be 
mere counters. For a word, when it is not purely emotional, refers 
to something absent for which it stands. When things are present, 
it is enough to ignore them, or to use them and point to them. 
Probably even purely emotional words are not exceptions; the 
emotion they give vent to may be that toward absent objects 



242 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

so massed that they have lost their individuality. The imaginative 
force of literature is an intensification of the idealizing office 
performed by words in ordinary speech. The most realistic presen¬ 
tation of a scene by words puts before us, after all, things that, for 
direct contact, are but possibilities. Every idea is by its nature in¬ 
dicative of a possibility not of present actuality. The meaning it 
conveys may be actual at some time and place. But as entertained 
In idea, the meaning is for that experience a possibility; it is ideal 
in the strict sense of the word: strict sense, because “ideal” is also 
used to denote the fanciful and utopian, the possibility that is 
impossible. 

If the ideal is really present to us, its presence must be 
effected through the medium of sense. In poetry the medium and 
the meaning seem to fuse as by a preestablished harmony, which 
is the “music” and euphony of words. Music in the strict sense 
there cannot be, since pitch is wanting. But the musical there is, 
since words themselves are harsh and solemn, swift and languor¬ 
ous, solemn and romantic, brooding and flighty, in accord with 
meaning. The chapter on sound of words in Lascelles Aber¬ 
crombie’s “The Theory of Poetry” renders detail superfluous, 
though I would call especial attention to his demonstration that 
cacophony is as genuine a factor as is euphony. For I think it 
fair to interpret its force as evidence that fluidity must be^ bal¬ 
anced with structural factors that in themselves are harsh, or 
else it will in the end be sugary. 

There are critics who hold that music outrivals poetry in 
its power to convey a sense of life and phases of life as we 
should desire them to be. I cannot, however, but think that by the 
very nature of its medium music is brutally organic: not, of 
course, in the sense in which “brutal” signifies “beastly,” but as 
we speak of brute facts, of that which is undeniable and un- 
escapable, because so inevitably there. Nor is this view disparag¬ 
ing to music. Its value is precisely that it can take material which 
is organically assertive and apparently intractable, and make 
melody and harmony out of it. As for pictures, when they are 
dominated by ideal qualities, they become weak from excess of 
poetic quality; they cross the border line and, when critically 
examined, they manifest a lack of sense of the medium—paint. 
But in the epic, lyric, the dramatic—comedy as well as tragedy— 



THE VARIED SUBSTANCE OF THE ARTS 243 


ideality in contrast with actuality plays an intrinsic and essential 
part. What might be or might have been stands always in contrast 
with what is and has been in a way only words are capable of 
conveying. If animals are strict realists, it is because they lack 
the signs that language confers on humans. 

Words as media are not exhausted in their power to con¬ 
vey possibility. Nouns, verbs, adjectives express generalized con¬ 
ditions—that is to say character . Even a proper name can but 
denote character in its limitation to an individual exemplification. 
Words attempt to convey the nature of things and events. Indeed 
it is through language that these have a nature over and above a 
brute flux of existence. That they can convey character, nature, 
not in abstract conceptual form, but as exhibited and operating 
in individuals is made evident in the novel and drama, whose 
business it is to exploit this particular function of language. For 
characters are presented in situations that evoke their natures, 
giving particularity of existence to the generality of potentiality. 
At the same time situations are defined and made concrete. For 
all we know of any situation is what it does to and with us: that 
is its nature. Our conception of types of character and the mani¬ 
fold variations of these types is due mainly to literature. We 
observe, note, and judge the people about us in terms that are 
derived from literature, including, of course, biography and his¬ 
tory with novel and drama. Ethical treatises in the past have been 
impotent in comparison in portraying characters so that they re¬ 
main in the consciousness of mankind. The correlativity of char¬ 
acter and situation is illustrated in the fact that whenever 
situations are left inchoate and wavering, characters are found 
to be vague and indefinite—something to be guessed at, not em¬ 
bodied, in short are uncharactered. 


IN what has been said, I have touched upon themes to each of 
which volumes have been devoted. For I have been concerned 
with the various arts in but one respect. I have wished to indicate 
that, as we build bridges of stone, steel, or cement, so every 
medium has its own power, active and passive, outgoing and 
receptive, and that the basis for distinguishing the different traits 
of the arts is their exploitation of the energy that is characteristic 



244 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of the material used as a medium. Most of what is written about 
the different arts as different seems to me to be said from the 
inside—by which I mean it takes the medium as an existing fact 
without asking why and how it is what it is. 

Literature thus presents evidence, more convincing per¬ 
haps than that offered by the other arts, that art is fine when it 
draws upon the material of other experiences and expresses their 
material in a medium which intensifies and clarifies its energy 
through the order that supervenes. The arts accomplish this result 
not by self-conscious intention but in the very operation of cre¬ 
ating, by means of new objects, new modes of experience. Every 
art communicates because it expresses. It enables us to share 
vividly and deeply in meanings to which we had been dumb, or 
for which we had but the ear that permits what is said to pass 
through in transit to overt action. For communication is not 
announcing things, even if they are said with the emphasis of 
great sonority. Communication is the process of creating partici¬ 
pation, of making common what had been isolated and singular; 
and part of the miracle it achieves is that, in being communicated, 
the conveyance of meaning gives body and definiteness to the 
experience of the one who utters as well as to that of those who 
listen. 

Men associate in many ways. But the only form of associa¬ 
tion that is truly human, and not a gregarious gathering for 
warmth and protection, or a mere device for efficiency in outer 
action, is the participation in meanings and goods that is effected 
by communication. The expressions that constitute art are com¬ 
munication in its pure and undefiled form. Art breaks through 
barriers that divide human beings, which are impermeable in 
ordinary association. This force of art, common to all the arts, 
is most fully manifested in literature. Its medium is already 
formed by communication, something that can hardly be asserted 
of any other art. There may be arguments ingeniously elaborated 
and plausibly couched about the moral and the humane function 
of other arts. There can be none about the art of letters. 



CHAPTER XI 


THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


B Y THE phrase, “the human contribution,” I mean those 
aspects and elements of esthetic experience that are usually 
called psychological. It is theoretically conceivable that discussion 
of psychological factors is not a necessary ingredient of a phi¬ 
losophy of art. Practically, it is indispensable. For historic theories 
are full of psychological terms, and these terms are not used in a 
neutral sense, but are charged with interpretations read into them 
because of psychological theories that have been current. Ex¬ 
punge special meanings given to such terms as sensation, intuition, 
contemplation, will, association, emotion, and a large part of 
esthetic philosophy would disappear. Moreover, each one of these 
terms has different meanings given to it by different schools of 
psychology. “Sensation,” for example, has been treated in ways 
as far apart as the notion that it is the sole original constitutent 
of experience and the idea that it is a heritage from low forms 
of animal life, and hence something to be minimized in human 
experience. Esthetic theories are filled with fossils of antiquated 
psychologies and are overlaid with debris of psychological contro¬ 
versies. Discussion of the psychological aspect of esthetics is 
unavoidable. 

Naturally the discussion must be confined to the more 
generic features of the human contribution. Because of the indi¬ 
vidual interest and attitude of the artist, because of the indi¬ 
vidualized character of every concrete work of art, the specifically 
personal contribution must be sought in works of art themselves. 
But in spite of the immense disparity of these unique products, 
there is a constitution common to all normal individuals. They 
have the same hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, pas¬ 
sions; they are fed with the same foods, hurt by the same 
weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same reme¬ 
dies, warmed and cooled by the same variations in climate. 

245 



246 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


To understand the basic psychological factors and to pro¬ 
tect ourselves against the errors of false psychologies that play 
havoc with esthetic philosophies, we recur to our basic principles: 
Experience is a matter of the interaction of organism with its 
environment, an environment that is human as well as physical, 
that includes the materials of tradition and institutions as 
well as local surroundings. The organism brings with it through 
its own structure, native and acquired, forces that play a part in 
the interaction. The self acts as well as undergoes, and its under¬ 
goings are not impressions stamped upon an inert wax but depend 
upon the way the organism reacts and responds. There is no ex¬ 
perience in which the human contribution is not a factor in 
determining what actually happens. The organism is a force, not 
a transparency. 

Because every experience is constituted by interaction be¬ 
tween “subject” and “object,” between a self and its world, it 
is not itself either merely physical nor merely mental, no matter 
how much one factor or the other predominates. The experiences 
that are emphatically called, because of the dominance of the 
internal contribution, “mental,” have reference, direct or remote, 
to experiences of a more objective character; they are the products 
of discrimination, and hence can be understood only as we take 
into account the total normal experience in which both inner and 
outer factors are so incorporated that each has lost its special 
character. In an experience, things and events belonging to the 
world, physical and social, are transformed through the human 
context they enter, while the live creature is changed and de¬ 
veloped through its intercourse with things previously external 
to it. 

This conception of the production and structure of an ex¬ 
perience is, then, the criterion that will be used to interpret and 
judge the psychological conceptions that have played a chief role 
in esthetic theory. I say “judge,” or criticize, because so many 
of these conceptions have their source in a separation of organism 
and environment; a separation that is alleged to be native and 
original. Experience is supposed to be something that occurs ex¬ 
clusively inside a self or mind or consciousness, something self- 
contained and sustaining only external relations to the objective 
scene in which it happens to be set. Then all psychological states 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


247 


and processes are not thought of as functions of a live creature 
as it lives in its natural surroundings. When the linkage of the 
self with its world is broken, then also the various ways in which 
the self interacts with the world cease to have a unitary connec¬ 
tion with one another. They fall into separate fragments of sense, 
feeling, desire, purpose, knowing, volition. Intrinsic connection 
of the self with the world through reciprocity of undergoing and 
doing; and the fact that all distinctions which analysis can intro¬ 
duce into the psychological factor are but different aspects and 
phases of a continuous, though varied, interaction of self and 
environment, are the two main considerations that will be-brought 
to bear in the discussion that follows. 

Before setting out on any detailed discussion, I shall, how¬ 
ever, refer to the way in which sharp psychological distinctions 
historically originated. They were at first formulations of differ¬ 
ences found among the portions and classes of society. Plato pro¬ 
vides an almost perfect example of this fact. He openly derived 
his three-fold division of the soul from what he observed in the 
communal life of his day. He did consciously what many psy¬ 
chologists have done in their classifications without being aware 
of their source, taking them from differences socially observable 
while they thought to arrive at them by pure introspection. From 
mind as it was manifest in the large print version of the commu¬ 
nity, Plato discriminated the sensuously appetitive and acquisitive 
faculty, exhibited in the mercantile class; the “spirited” faculty, 
that of generous outgoing impulse and will, he derived from 
citizen-soldiers loyal to law and right belief, even at the expense 
of their personal existence; the rational faculty he found in those 
who were fit for the making of laws. He found these same differ¬ 
ences dominant in different racial groups, the Oriental, the north¬ 
ern barbarians, and the Athenian Greeks. 

There are no intrinsic psychological divisions between 
the intellectual and the sensory aspects; the emotional and 
ideational; the imaginative and the practical phases of human 
nature. But there are individuals and even classes of individuals 
who are dominantly executive or reflective; dreamers or “ideal¬ 
ists” and doers, sensualists and the humanely minded; egoists 
and unselfish; those who engage in routine bodily activity and 
those who specialize in intellectual inquiry. In a badly ordered 



248 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


society such divisions as these are exaggerated. The well-rounded 
man and woman are the exception. But just as it is the office of 
art to be unifying, to break through conventional distinctions to 
the underlying common elements of the experienced world, while 
developing individuality as the manner of seeing and expressing 
these elements, so it is the office of art in the individual person, 
to compose differences, to do away with isolations and conflicts 
among the elements of our being, to utilize oppositions among 
them to build a richer personality. Hence the extraordinary in¬ 
eptitude of a compartmentalized psychology to serve as an instru¬ 
ment for a theory of art. 

Extreme instances of the results of separation of organism 
and the world are not infrequent in esthetic philosophy. Such a 
separation lies behind the idea that esthetic quality does not 
belong to objects as objects but is projected into them by mind. 
It is the source of the definition of beauty as “objectified pleas¬ 
ure” instead of as pleasure in the object, so much in it that the 
object and pleasure are one and undivided in the experience. In 
other fields of experience a preliminary distinction between self 
and object is not only legitimate but necessary. An investigator 
must constantly distinguish as best he can between those parts 
of an experience that come from himself in the way of suggestions 
and hypotheses, and the influence of personal desire for a certain 
result, and the properties of the object inquired into. Improve¬ 
ments in scientific technique are devised for the express purpose 
of facilitating this distinction. Prejudice, preconceptions and 
desire influence native tendencies in judgment to such an extent 
that especial pains must be taken to become aware of them so 
that they may be eliminated. 

A like obligation is imposed upon those engaged in manipu¬ 
lation of materials and execution of projects. They need to main¬ 
tain the attitude of saying “this belongs to me while that inheres 
in the objects dealt with.” Otherwise they will not keep their eye 
“upon the ball.” The fuzzy sentimentalist is one who permits his 
own feelings and wishes to color that which he takes to be the 
object. An attitude that is indispensable to success in thinking 
and in practical planning and execution becomes a deep-seated 
.habit. A person can hardly cross a street where traffic is swift 
and crowded save as he keeps in mind differences which phi- 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


249 


losophers formulate in terms of “subject” and “object.” The pro¬ 
fessional thinker (and naturally he is the one who writes treatises 
on esthetic theory) is the one who is most perpetually haunted 
by the difference between self and the world. He approaches dis¬ 
cussion of art with a reenforced bias, and one, which, most un¬ 
fortunately, is just the one most fatal to esthetic understanding. 
For the uniquely distinguishing feature of esthetic experience is 
exactly the fact that no such distinction of self and object exists 
in it, since it is esthetic in the degree in which organism and en¬ 
vironment cooperate to institute an experience in which the two 
are so fully integrated that each disappears. 

When an experience is once recognized to be causally 
dependent upon the way in which self and objects interact, there 
is no mystery about what is called “projection.” When a landscape 
is seen as yellow with yellow spectacles or by jaundiced eyes, 
there is no shooting of yellow, like a projectile, into the landscape 
from the self. The organic factor in causal interaction with the 
environmental produces the yellow of the landscape, in the same 
way in which hydrogen and oxygen when interacting produce 
water that is wet. A writer on psychiatry tells a story of a man 
who complained of the discordant sound of church bells when 
in fact Uie sound was musical. Examination showed that his 
betrothed had jilted him to marry a clergyman. Here was “projec¬ 
tion” with a vengeance. Not, however, because something psy¬ 
chical was miraculously extruded from the self and shot into the 
physical object, but because the experience of the sound of bells 
was dependent upon an organism that was so twisted as to act 
abnormally as a factor in certain situations. Projection in fact is 
a case of transferred values, “transfer” being accomplished 
through the organic participation of a being that has been made 
what it is and caused to act as it does through organic modifica¬ 
tions due to prior experiences. 

It is a familiar fact that colors of a landscape become 
more vivid when seen with the head upside down. The change of 
physical position does not cause a new psychical element to be 
injected, but it does signify that a somewhat different organism 
is acting, and difference in the cause is bound to make a difference 
in the effect. Instructors in drawing strive to bring about a re¬ 
covery of the original innocency of the eye. Here it is a question 



250 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of affecting a disassodation of elements that have, in prior experi¬ 
ence, got so bound together that an experience is induced which 
works against representation upon a two-dimensional surface. The 
organism that is set to experience in terms of touch has to be re¬ 
conditioned to experience space-relations as nearly as possible 
in terms of the eye. The kind of projection usually involved in 
esthetic vision involves an analogous relaxation of a strain built 
up in pursuit of special ends so that the whole personality may 
interact freely without deflection or restriction so as to reach 
a particular and preconceived outcome. First hostile reactions to 
a new mode in an art are usually due to unwillingness to perform 
some needed disassodation. 

The misconception of what takes place in what is called 
projection is, in short, wholly dependent upon failure to see that 
self, organism, subject, mind—whatever term is used—denotes a 
factor which interacts causally with environing things to produce 
an experience. The same failure is found when the self is regarded 
as the bearer or carrier of an experience instead of a factor 
absorbed in what is produced, as once more in the case of the 
gases that produce water. When control of formation and develop¬ 
ment of an experience is needed, we have to treat the self as its 
bearer; we have to acknowledge the causal efficacy of the self in 
order to secure responsibility. But this emphasis upon the self 
is for a special purpose, and it disappears when the need for 
control in a specified predetermined direction no longer exists— 
as it assuredly does not exist in an esthetic experience, although 
in case of the new in art it may be a preliminary to having an 
esthetic experience. 

As intelligent a critic as I. A. Richards falls into the 
fallacy. He writes: “We are accustomed to say that the picture 
is beautiful instead of saying that it causes an experience in us 
which is valuable in certain ways.... When what we ought to 
say is that they (certain objects) cause effects in us of one kind 
or another, the fallacy of projecting the effect and making it a 
part of the cause tends to recur.” What is overlooked is that it is 
not the painting as a picture (that is, the object in esthetic ex¬ 
perience) that causes certain effects “in us .* 9 The painting as a 
picture is itself a total effect brought about by the interaction of 
external and organic causes. The external causal factor is vibra- 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


251 


tions of light from pigments on canvas variously reflected and 
refracted. It is ultimately that which physical science discovers— 
atoms, electrons, protons. The picture is the integral outcome of 
their interaction with what the mind through the organism con¬ 
tributes. Its “beauty,” which, I agree with Mr. Richards, is simply 
a short term for certain valued qualities, in being an intrinsic 
part of the total effect, belongs to the picture just as much as do 
the rest of its properties. 

The reference to “in us” is as much an abstraction from 
the total experience, as on the other side it would be to resolve 
the picture into mere aggregations of molecules and atoms. Even 
anger and hate are partly caused by us rather than in us. Not 
that we are the sole cause, but that our own make-up is a con¬ 
tributing causal factor. It is true that most art, up to the time 
of the Renascence, seems to us impersonal, dealing with “uni¬ 
versal” phases of the experienced world, in comparison with the 
role of the individual’s experience in modern art. Not perhaps till 
the nineteenth century did consciousness of the rightful place of 
the strictly personal factor play any large rdle in plastic and 
literary arts. The novel of the “stream of consciousness” marks 
a definite date in the course of changing experience, as much so 
as impressionism in painting. The longer course of every art is 
marked by shifts of emphasis. Already we are in the presence of 
a reaction toward the impersonal and the abstract. These shifts 
in art are connected with large rhythms in human history. But 
even the art that allows least play to individual variations—like, 
say, the religious painting and sculpture of the twelfth century— 
is not mechanical and hence it bears the stamp of personality; 
and the classicist paintings of the seventeenth century reflect, 
like those of Nicholas Poussin, a personal predilection in sub¬ 
stance and form, while the most “individualized” paintings never 
get away from some aspect or phase of the objective scene. 

Variations in what we may call the ratio of personal and 
impersonal, subjective and objective, concrete and abstract fac¬ 
tors, are perhaps the very things that lead the psychological 
aspect of esthetic theory and criticism astray. Writers in each 
period tend to take as what is uppermost in the art tendencies 
of their own day as the normal psychological base of all art. The 
consequence is that those eras and aspects of the past and of alien 



252 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


countries most similar and dissimilar to existing tendencies 
undergo waves of appreciation and depreciation. A catholic phi¬ 
losophy based on understanding of the constant relation of self 
and world amid variations in their actual contents would render 
enjoyment wider and more sympathetic. We could then enjoy 
Negro sculpture as well as Greek; Persian paintings as well as 
those of the sixteenth century by Italian painters. 

Whenever the bond that binds the living creature to his 
environment is broken, there is nothing that holds together the 
various factors and phases of the self. Thought, emotion, sense, 
purpose, impulsion fall apart, and are assigned to different com¬ 
partments of our being. For their unity is found in the cooperative 
roles they play in active and receptive relations to the environ¬ 
ment. When elements united in experience are separated, the 
resulting esthetic theory is bound to be one-sided. I may illustrate 
from the vogue which the concept of contemplation, understood 
in a narrow way, has enjoyed in esthetics. At first sight, “con¬ 
templation” appears to be about as inept a term as could be 
selected to denote the excited and passionate absorption that 
often accompanies experience of a drama, a poem, or a painting. 
Attentive observation is certainly one essential factor in all 
genuine perception including the esthetic. But how does it happen 
that this factor is reduced to the bare act of contemplation? 

The answer, so far as psychological theory is concerned, 
is to be found in Kant’s “Critique of Judgment.” Kant was a past- 
master in first drawing distinctions and then erecting them into 
compartmental divisions. The effect upon subsequent theory was 
to give the separation of the esthetic from other modes of ex¬ 
perience an alleged scientific basis in the constitution of human 
nature. Kant had referred knowledge to one division of our na¬ 
ture, the faculty of understanding working in conjunction with 
sense-materials. He had referred ordinary conduct, as pruden¬ 
tial, to desire which has pleasure for its object, and moral conduct 
to the Pure Reason operating as a demand upon Pure Will.* 
Having disposed of Truth and the Good, it remained to find a 
niche for Beauty, the remaining term in the classic trio. Pure 
Feeling remained, being “pure” in the sense of being isolated and 

* The effect upon German thought of Capitalization has hardly 
received proper attention. 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


253 


self-enclosed; feeling free from any taint of desire; feeling that 
strictly speaking is non-empirical. So he bethought himself of a 
faculty of Judgment which is not reflective but intuitive and yet 
not concerned with objects of Pure Reason. This faculty is exer¬ 
cised in Contemplation, and the distinctively esthetic element is 
the pleasure which attends such Contemplation. Thus the psycho¬ 
logical road was opened leading to the ivory tower of “Beauty” 
remote from all desire, action, and stir of emotion. 

Although Kant gives no evidence in his writings of any 
special esthetic sensitivity, it is possible that his theoretic empha¬ 
sis reflects the artistic tendencies of the eighteenth century. For 
that century was, generally speaking, till towards its close, a cen¬ 
tury of “reason” rather than of “passion,” and hence one in which 
objective order and regularity, the invariant element, was almost 
exclusively the source of esthetic satisfaction—a situation that 
lent itself to the idea that contemplative judgment and the feel¬ 
ing connected with it are the peculiar differentia of esthetic ex¬ 
perience. But if we generalize the idea and extend it to all periods 
of artistic endeavor, its absurdity is evident. It not only passes 
over, as if it were irrelevant, the doing and making involved in 
the production of a work of art (and the corresponding active 
elements in the appreciative response), but it involves an ex¬ 
tremely one-sided idea of the nature of perception. It takes as 
its cue to the understanding of perception what belongs only to 
the act of recognition, merely broadening the latter to include the 
pleasure that attends it when recognition is prolonged and exten¬ 
sive. It is thus a theory peculiarly appropriate to a time when 
the “representative” nature of art is especially marked and when 
the subject-matter represented is of a “rational” nature—regular 
and recurrent elements and phases of existence. 

Taken at its best, that is to say, with a liberal interpreta¬ 
tion, contemplation designates that aspect of perception in which 
elements of seeking and of thinking are subordinated (although 
not absent) to the perfecting of the process of perception itself. 
To define the emotional element of esthetic perception merely 
as the pleasure taken in the act of contemplation, independent of 
what is excited by the matter contemplated, results, however, in 
a thoroughly anaemic conception of art. Carried to its logical con¬ 
clusion, it would exclude from esthetic perception most of the 



254 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

subject-matter that is enjoyed in the case of architectural struc¬ 
tures, the drama, and the novel, with all their attendent rever¬ 
berations. 

Not absence of desire and thought but their thorough 
incorporation into perceptual experience characterizes esthetic 
experience, in its distinction from experiences that are especially 
“intellectual” and “practical.” The uniqueness of the object per¬ 
ceived is an obstacle rather than an aid to the investigator. He is 
interested in it as far as it leads his thought and observation to 
something beyond itself; to him the object is datum or evidence. 
Nor does the man whose perception is dominated by desire or 
appetite enjoy it for its own sake; his interest in it is because of 
a particular act to which as a consequence his perception may 
lead; it is a stimulus, rather than an object in which perception 
may rest with satisfaction. The esthetic percipient is free from 
desire in the presence of a sunset, a cathedral, or a bouquet of 
flowers in the sense that his desires are fulfilled in the perception 
itself. He does not want the object for the sake of something else. 

In reading, say, Keats* “St. Agnes Eve,” thought is active 
but at the same time its demands are fully met. The rhythm of 
expectancy and satisfaction is so internally complete that the 
reader is not aware of thought as a separate element, certainly 
not of it as a labor. The experience is marked by a greater in¬ 
clusiveness of all psychological factors than occurs in ordinary 
experiences, not by reduction of them to a single response. Such 
a reduction is an impoverishment. How can an experience that is 
rich as well as unified be reached by a process of exclusion? A 
man who finds himself in a field with an angry bull has but one 
desire and thought: to attain a place of safety. Once in security, 
he may enjoy the spectacle of untamed power. His satisfaction 
in his present act, in contrast with that of the effort to escape, may 
be called one of contemplation; but the latter act marks the fulfill¬ 
ment of many obscure active tendencies, and the pleasure taken is 
not in the act of contemplation but in the fulfillment of these 
tendencies in the subject-matter perceived. More imagery and 
“ideas” are included than attend the act of escape; while if emo¬ 
tion means something conscious and not the mere excited energy 
of escape, there is much more emotion. 

One trouble with the Kantian psychology is that it sup- 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


25S 


poses all “pleasure,” save that of “contemplation,” to consist 
wholly of personal and private gratification. Every experience, 
including the most generous and idealistic, contains an element 
of seeking, of pressing forward. Only when we are dulled by 
routine and sunk in apathy does this eagerness forsake us. At¬ 
tention is built out of an organization of these factors, and a 
contemplation that is not an aroused and intensified form of 
attention to material in perception presented through the senses 
is an idle stare. 

“Sensations” are necessarily involved, and are not mere 
external incidents of the act of perception. The traditional psy¬ 
chology that puts sensation first and impulsion second reverses 
the actual state of the case. We consciously experience colors 
because the impulse to look is performed; we hear sounds because 
we are satisfied in listening. Motor and sensory structure form 
a single apparatus and effect a single function. Since life is 
activity, there is always desire whenever activity is obstructed. 
A painting satisfies because it meets the hunger for scenes having 
color and light more fully than do most of the things with which 
we are ordinarily surrounded. In the kingdom of art as well as 
of righteousness it is those who hunger and thirst who enter. 
The very dominance of intense sensuous qualities in esthetic 
objects is itself proof, psychologically speaking, that appetition 
is there. 

Seeking, desire, need, can be fulfilled only through ma¬ 
terial external to the organism. The hibernating bear cannot live 
indefinitely upon its own substance. Our needs are drafts drawn 
upon the environment, at first blindly, then with conscious inter¬ 
est and attention. To be satisfied, they must intercept energy 
from surrounding things and absorb what they lay hold of. Sur¬ 
plus energy, so-called, of the organism only increases restlessness 
save as it can feed upon something objective. While instinctive 
need is impatient and hurries to its discharge (as a spider whose 
spinning is interfered with will spin itself to death), impulse that 
has become conscious of itself tarries to amass, incorporate, and 
digest congenial objective material.* 

Perception is therefore at its lowest and its most obscure 

* The reader will note that I am saying here, in different tenns, what 
was found to be involved in the “Expressive Act.” 



256 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


in the degree that only instinctive need operates. Instinct is in 
too much haste to be solicitous about its environing relations. 
Nevertheless instinctive demands and responses serve a double 
purpose after transformation into conscious demand for con¬ 
genial matter has supervened. Many impulses of which we are 
not distinctively aware give body and breadth to the conscious 
focus. Even more important is the fact that primitive need is 
the source of attachment to objects. Perception is born when 
solicitude for objects and their qualities brings the organic de¬ 
mand for attachment to consciousness. If we judge on the basis 
of production of works of art, instead of that of a preconceived 
psychology, the absurdity of supposing that need, desire, and 
affection are excluded together with action from esthetic experi¬ 
ence is evident, unless the artist is the one person who has no 
esthetic experience. Perception that occurs for its own sake is 
full realization of all the elements of our psychological being. 

Here, of course, is the explanation of the balance, the 
composure, that is characteristic of much esthetic appreciation. 
As long as light stimulates only the eye, experience of it is 
thin and poor. When the tendency to turn the eyes and head is 
absorbed into a multitude of other impulses and it and they 
become the members of a single act, all impulses are held in a 
state of equilibrium. Perception instead of some specialized 
reaction then occurs, and what is perceived is charged with 
value. 

This state may be described as one of contemplation. It is 
not practical, ij by “practical” is meant an action undertaken 
for a particular and specialized end outside the perception, or 
for some external consequence.* In the latter case, perception 
does not exist for its own sake but is limited to a recognition exer¬ 
cised in behalf of ulterior considerations. But this conception of 
“practical” is a limitation of its significance. Not only is art itself 
an operation of doing and making—a poiesis expressed in the very 
word poetry—but esthetic perception demands, as we have seen, 
an organized body of activities, including the motor elements 
necessary for full perception. 

The chief objection to the associations usually connected 

* Compare what was said about the difference between external means 
and a medium, p. 197. 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


257 


with the term “contemplation” is, of course, its seeming aloof¬ 
ness from passionate emotion. I have spoken of a certain internal 
equilibrium of impulsions found in the act of perception. But even 
the word “equilibrium.” may give rise to a false conception. It may 
suggest a balance so calm and sedate as to exclude rapture by 
an absorbing object. It signifies, in fact, only that different im¬ 
pulsions mutually excite and reenforce one another so as to 
exclude the kind of overt action that leads away from emotion¬ 
alized perception. Psychologically, deep-seated needs cannot be 
stirred to find fulfillment in perception without an emotion and 
affection that, in the end, constitute the unity of the experience. 
And, as I have noted in other connections, the emotion aroused 
attends the subject-matter that is perceived, thus differing from 
crude emotion because it is attached to the movement of the 
subject-matter toward consummation. To limit esthetic emotion to 
the pleasure attending the act of contemplation is to exclude all 
that is most characteristic of it. 

It is worth while to quote from Keats a passage already 
cited in part: “As to the poetical character itself... it is not 
itself—it has no self. It is everything and nothing—it enjoys light 
and shade; it lives in gusto, be it fair or foul, high or low, rich 
or poor, mean or elevated. It has as much delight in conceiving 
an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher 
delights the chameleon poet. It does not harm from its relish for 
the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for the 
bright one, because they both end in speculation [Imaginative 
perception]. A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in exist¬ 
ence, because he has no identity—-he is continually in and for, and 
filling some other body.... When I am in a room with people, if 
I am ever free from speculating on creations of my own brain, 
then, not myself goes home to myself, but the identity of every 
one in the room begins to press upon me, so that I am in a very 
little time annihilated—not only among men; it would be the 
same in a nursery of children.” 

The ideas of disinterestedness, detachment and “psychi¬ 
cal distance,” of which much has been made in recent esthetic 
theory, are to be understood in the same way as contemplation. 
“Disinterestedness” cannot signify uninterestedness. But it may 
be used as a roundabout way to denote that no specialized interest 



2S8 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


holds sway. “Detachment” is a negative name for something ex¬ 
tremely positive. There is no severance of self, no holding of it 
aloof, but fullness of participation. Even “attachment” fails to 
convey fully the right idea, for it suggests that self and the 
esthetic object continue to exist separately although in close 
connection. Participation is so thoroughgoing that the work of 
art is detached or cut off from the kind of specialized desire that 
operates when we are moved to consume or appropriate a thing 
physically. 

The phrase “psychical distance” has been employed to 
indicate much the same fact. The illustration of the man who 
enjoys the spectacle of the angry bull is in point. He is not overtly 
engaged in the scene. He is not stirred to the performance of a 
particular and special act beyond the perception itself. Distance 
is a name for a participation so intimate and balanced that no 
particular impulse acts to make a person withdraw, a complete¬ 
ness of surrender in perception. The person who enjoys a storm 
at sea unites his impulses with the drama of rushing seas, roaring 
gale and plunging ship. “Diderot’s paradox” exemplifies a similar 
situation. An actor on the stage is not cold and unmoved in his 
part, but impulses that would be dominant, were he actually in the 
scenes that he represents, are transformed by coordination with 
the interests belonging to him as an artist. Disinterestedness, de¬ 
tachment, psychical distance, all express ideas that apply to raw 
primitive desire and impulse, but that are irrelevant to the matter 
of experience artistically organized. 

The psychological conceptions that are implied in “ration¬ 
alistic” philosophies of art are all associated with a fixed separa¬ 
tion of sense and reason. The work of art is so obviously sensuous 
and yet contains such wealth of meaning, that it is defined as a 
cancellation of the separation, and as an embodiment through 
sense of the logical structure of the universe. Ordinarily, and apart 
from fine art, according to the theory, sense conceals and distorts 
a rational substance that is the reality behind appearances—to 
which sense perception is limited. The imagination, by means of 
art, makes a concession to sense in employing its materials, but 
nevertheless uses sense to suggest underlying ideal truth. Art is 
thus a way of having the substantial cake of reason while also 
enjoying the sensuous pleasure of eating it. 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


259 


But, in fact, the distinction of quality as sensuous and 
meaning as ideational is not primary but secondary and methodo¬ 
logical. When a situation is construed as being or as containing 
a problem, we set facts that are given through perception on 
one side and possible meanings for these facts on the other. The 
distinction is a necessary instrumentality of reflection. The dis¬ 
tinction between some elements of subject-matter as rational and 
others as sensible is always intermediary and transitive. Its office 
is to lead in the end to a perceptual experience in which the dis¬ 
tinction is overcome—in which what were once conceptions be¬ 
come the inherent meanings of material mediated through sense. 
Even scientific conceptions have to receive embodiment in sense- 
perception to be accepted as more than ideas. 

All observed objects that are identified without reflection 
(although their recognition may give rise to further reflection) 
exhibit an integral union of sense quality and meaning in a single 
firm texture. We recognize with the eye the green of the sea as 
belonging to the sea, not to the eye, and as a different quality from 
the green of a leaf; and the gray of a rock as different in quality 
from that of the lichen growing upon it. In all objects perceived 
for what they are without need for reflective inquiry, the quality 
is what it means, namely, the object to which it belongs. Art has 
the faculty of enhancing and concentrating this union of quality 
and meaning in a way which vivifies both. Instead of canceling 
a separation between sense and meaning (asserted to be psycho¬ 
logically normal), it exemplifies in an accentuated and perfected 
manner the union characteristic of many other experiences 
through finding the exact qualitative media that fuse most com¬ 
pletely with what is to be expressed. The remark previously made 
concerning differing ratios of the two factors is applicable in this 
connection. There are whole periods of art, as well as individual 
works, in which one element predominates as compared with the 
other. But when the result is art, integration is always effected. 
In impressionistic painting, an immediate quality dominates. In 
Cezanne, relations, meanings, with their inevitable tendency 
toward abstraction, dominate. But, nevertheless, when Cezanne 
succeeds esthetically the work is accomplished wholly in terms 
of the qualitative and sensuous medium. 



260 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


ORDINARY experience is often infected with apathy, lassitude 
and stereotype. We get neither the impact of quality through 
sense nor the meaning of things through thought. The “world” is 
too much with us as burden or distraction. We are not sufficiently 
alive to feel the tang of sense nor yet to be moved by thought. 
We are oppressed by our surroundings or are callous to them. 
Acceptance of this sort of experience as normal is the chief cause 
of acceptance of the idea that art cancels separations that inhere 
in the structure of ordinary experience. Were it not for the oppres¬ 
sions and monotonies of daily experience, the realm of dream 
and revery would not be attractive. No complete and enduring 
suppression of emotion is possible. Repelled by the dreariness 
and indifference of things which a badly adjusted environment 
forces upon us, emotion withdraws and feeds upon things of fan¬ 
tasy. These things are built up by an impulsive energy that cannot 
find outlet in the usual occupations of existence. It may well be 
under such circumstances that multitudes have recourse to music, 
theater and the novel to find easy entrance into a kingdom of 
free floating emotions. But this fact is no ground for the assertion 
by philosophic theory of an inherent psychological separation of 
sense and reason, desire and perception. 

When, however, theory frames its conception of experi¬ 
ence from the situations that drive so many persons to find relief 
and excitation in the purely fanciful, it is inevitable that the 
idea of the “practical” should stand in opposition to the properties 
that belong to a work of art. Much of the current opposition of 
objects of beauty and use—to use the antithesis most frequently 
used—is due to dislocations that have their origin in the economic 
system. Temples have a use; the paintings in them have a use; 
the beautiful city halls found in many European cities are used 
for the conduct of public business, and it is not necessary to 
rehearse the multitude of things produced by peoples we call 
savages and peasants which charm the eye and touch as well as 
serve the utilities of partaking of food and of protection. The 
commonest cheap plate and bowl made by a Mexican potter for 
domestic use has its own unstereotyped charm. 

It has been contended, however, that there is a psycho¬ 
logical opposition between objects employed for practical pur¬ 
poses and those that contribute to direct intensity and unity of 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


261 


experience. It has been urged that there is an antithesis in the 
very structure of our being between the fluent action of practice 
and the vivid consciousness of esthetic experience. It is said that 
production and use of goods involve the worker and the user 
in action that is fluent in the sense of being as mechanical and 
automatic as possible, while the intense and robust consciousness 
of a work of art demands the presence of resistances that 
inhibit such action.* About the latter fact there is no doubt. 

It is stated that “utensils can only, through some cere¬ 
monial effort, or when imported from some far time or countries, 
become the source of heightened consciousness, because we flow 
from a utensil smoothly into the action for which it is designed." 
As for the producer of utensils, the fact that so many artisans in 
all times and places have found and taken time to make their 
products esthetically pleasing seems to me a sufficient answer. 
I do not see how there could be better proof that prevailing social 
conditions, under which industry is carried on, are the factors 
that determine the artistic or non-artistic quality of utensils, 
rather than anything inherent in the nature of things. As far as 
the one who uses the utensil is concerned, I do not see why in 
drinking tea from a cup he is necessarily estopped from enjoying 
its shape and the delicacy of its material. Not every one gulps 
his food and drink in the shortest possible time in obedience to 
some necessary psychological law. 

Just as there is many a mechanic under present indus¬ 
trial conditions who stops to admire the fruit of his labors, hold¬ 
ing it of! to admire its shape and texture and not merely to 
examine into its efficiency for practical purposes, and as there 
is many a milliner and dressmaker who is the more engaged in 
her work because of appreciation of its esthetic qualities, so those 
who are not crowded by economic pressure, or who have not 
given way completely to habits formed in working on a moving 
belt in a speeded-up industry, have a vivid consciousness in the 
very process of using utensils. I suppose all of us have heard some 
men boast of the beauty of their cars and of the esthetic qualities 


* The division between fine and useful art has many supporters. The 
psychological argument to which the text refers is that of Max Eastman in 
his “Literary Mind,” pp. 205-206. As to the nature of the esthetic experience, 
I am glad to find myself in close accord with what he says. 



262 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of its performance, even though fewer in numbers than those who 
brag of the number of miles it can cover in a given time. 

The compartmentalized psychology that holds to an in¬ 
trinsic separation between completeness of perceptual experience 
is, then, itself a reflection of dominant social institutions that 
have deeply affected both production and consumption or use. 
Where the workei produces in different industrial conditions 
from those which prevail today, his own impulsions tend in the 
direction of creation of articles of use that satisfy his urge for 
experience as he works. It seen to me absurd to suppose that 
preference for mechanically effective execution by means of com¬ 
pletely smooth running mental automatisms, and at the expense 
of quickened consciousness of what he is about, is ingrained in 
psychological structure. And if our environment, as far as it is 
constituted by objects of use, consisted of things that are them¬ 
selves contributory to a heightened consciousness of sight and 
touch, I do not think any one would suppose that the act of 
use is such as to be anesthetic. 

A sufficient refutation of the idea in question is supplied 
by the action of the artist himself. If painter and sculptor have 
an experience in which action is not automatic, but emotionally 
and imaginatively dyed, there is in that one fact proof of the 
invalidity of the notion that action is so fluent as to exclude the 
elements of resistance and inhibition necessary to heightened 
consciousness. There may have been a time when the scientific 
inquirer sat still in his chair to excogitate science. Now his action 
occurs in a place significantly called a laboratory. If the action 
of a teacher is so fluent as to exclude emotional and imaginative 
perception of what he is doing, he may be safely set down as a 
wooden and perfunctory pedagogue. The same is true of any pro¬ 
fessional man, a lawyer or doctor. Not only do such actions 
demonstrate the falsity of the psychological principle laid down, 
but their experiences often become definitely esthetic in nature. 
The beauty of a skilled surgical operation is felt by the operator 
as well as by an onlooker. 


POPULAR psychology and much so-called scientific psychology 
have been pretty thoroughly infected by the idea of the separate- 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


263 


ness of mind and body; This notion of their separation inevitably 
results in creating a dualism between “mind” and “practice,” 
since the latter must operate through the body. The idea of the 
separation perhaps arose, in part at least, from the fact that so 
much of mind at a given time is aloof from action. The separation, 
when it is once made, certainly confirms the theory that mind, 
soul, and spirit can exist and go through their operations without 
any interaction of the organism with its environment. The tra¬ 
ditional notion of leisure is thoroughly infected by contrast with 
the character of onerous labor. 

It seems to me, accordingly, that the idiomatic use of the 
word “mind” gives a much more truly scientific, and philosophic, 
approach to the actual facts of the case than does the technical 
one. For in its non-technical use, “mind” denotes every mode and 
variety of interest in, and concern for, things: practical, intel¬ 
lectual, and emotional. It never denotes anything self-contained, 
isolated from the world of persons and things, but is always used 
with respect to situations, events, objects, persons and groups. 
Consider its inclusiveness. It signifies memory. We are reminded 
of this and that. Mind also signifies attention. We not only keep 
things in mind, but we bring mind to bear on our problems and 
perplexities. Mind also signifies purpose; we have a mind to do 
this and that. Nor is mind in these operations something purely 
intellectual. The mother minds her baby; she cares for it with 
affection. Mind is care in the sense of solicitude, anxiety, as well 
as of active looking after things that need to be tended; we mind 
our step, our course of action, emotionally as well as thoughtfully. 
From giving heed to acts and objects, mind comes also to signify, 
to obey—as children are told to mind their parents. In short “to 
mind” denotes an activity that is intellectual, to note something; 
affectional, as caring and liking, and volitional, practical, acting 
in a purposive way. 

Mind is primarily a verb. It denotes all the ways in which 
we deal consciously and expressly with the situations in which we 
find ourselves. Unfortunately, an influential manner of thinking 
has changed modes of action into an underlying substance that 
performs the activities in question. It has treated mind as an 
independent entity which attends, purposes, cares, notices, and 
remembers. This change of ways of responding to the environment 



264 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 

into an entity from which actions proceed is unfortunate, because 
it removes mind from necessary connection with the objects and 
events, past, present and future, of the environment with which 
responsive activities are inherently connected. Mind that bears 
only an accidental relation to the environment occupies a similar 
relation to the body. In making mind purely immaterial (isolated 
from the organ of doing and undergoing), the body ceases to be 
living and becomes a dead lump. This conception of mind as an 
isolated being underlies the conception that esthetic experience 
is merely something “in mind,” and strengthens the concep¬ 
tion which isolates the esthetic from those modes of experi¬ 
ence in which the body is actively engaged with the things 
of nature and life. It takes art out of the province of the live 
creature. 

In the idiomatic sense of the word “substantial,” as dis¬ 
tinct from the metaphysical sense of a substance, there is some¬ 
thing substantial about mind. Whenever anything is undergone in 
consequence of a doing, the self is modified. The modification 
extends beyond acquisition of greater facility and skill. Attitudes 
and interests are built up which embody in themselves some de¬ 
posit of the meaning of things done and undergone. These funded 
and retained meanings become a part of the self. They constitute 
the capital with which the self notes, cares for, attends, and 
purposes. In this substantial sense, mind forms the background 
upon which every new contact with surroundings is projected; yet 
background” is too passive a word, unless we remember that it 
is active and that, in the projection of the new upon it, there is as¬ 
similation and reconstruction of both background and of what is 
taken in and digested. 

This active and eager background lies in wait and engages 
whatever comes its way so as to absorb it into its own being. Mind 
as background is formed out of modifications of the self that have 
occurred in the process of prior interactions with environment. Its 
animus is toward further interactions. Since it is formed out of 
commerce with the world and is set toward that world nothing 
can be further from the truth than the idea which treats it as 
something self-contained and self-enclosed. When its activity is 
turned upon itself, as in meditation and reflective speculation, 
its withdrawal is only from the immediate scene of the world 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


265 


during the time in which it turns over and reviews material 
gathered from that world. 

Different kinds of minds are named from the different 
interests that actuate the gathering and assemblage of material 
from the encompassing world: the scientific, the executive, the 
artistic, the business mind. In each there is a preferential, man¬ 
ner of selection, retention, and organization. The native con¬ 
stitution of the artist is marked by peculiar sensitiveness to some 
aspect of the multiform universe of nature and man and by urge 
to the remaking of it through expression in a preferred medium. 
These inherent impulsions become mind when they fuse with 
a particular background of experience. Of this background, tra¬ 
ditions form a large part. It is not enough to have direct contacts 
and observations, indispensable as these are. Even the work of 
an original temperament may be relatively thin, as well as tending 
to the bizarre, when it is not informed with a wide and varied 
experience of the traditions of the art in which the artist operates. 
The organization of the background with which immediate scenes 
are approached cannot otherwise be rendered solid and valid. 
For each great tradition is itself an organized habit of vision and 
of methods of ordering and conveying material. As this habit 
enters into native temperament and constitution it becomes an 
essential ingredient of the mind of an artist. Peculiar sensitive¬ 
ness to certain aspects of nature is thereby developed into a 
power. 

"Schools” of art are more marked in sculpture, architec¬ 
ture, and painting than in the literary arts. But there has been 
no great literary artist who did not feed upon the works of the 
masters of drama, poetry, and eloquent prose. In this dependence 
upon tradition there is nothing peculiar to art. The scientific 
inquirer, the philosopher, the technologist, also derive their sub¬ 
stance from the stream of culture. This dependence is an essen¬ 
tial factor in original vision and creative expression. The trouble 
with the academic imitator is not that he depends upon traditions, 
but that the latter have not entered into his mind; into the 
structure of his own ways of seeing and making. They remain upon 
the surface as tricks of technique or as extraneous suggestions 
and conventions as to the proper thing to do. 

Mind is more than consciousness, because it is the abiding 



266 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


even though changing background of which consciousness is the 
foreground. Mind changes slowly through the joint tuition of 
interest and circumstance. Consciousness is always in rapid 
change, for it marks the place where the formed disposition and 
the immediate situation touch and interact. It is the continuous 
readjustment of self and the world in experience. “Consciousness” 
is the more acute and intense in the degree of the readjustments 
that are demanded, approaching the nil as the contact is friction¬ 
less and interaction fluid. It is turbid when meanings are under¬ 
going reconstruction in an undetermined direction, and becomes 
dear as a decisive meaning emerges. 

“Intuition” is that meeting of the old and new in which 
the readjustment involved in every form of consciousness is 
effected suddenly by means of a quick and unexpected harmony 
which in its bright abruptness is like a flash of revelation; 
although in fact it is prepared for by long and slow incubation. 
Oftentimes the union of old and new, of foreground and back¬ 
ground, is accomplished only by effort, prolonged perhaps to the 
point of pain. In any case, the background of organized meanings 
can alone convert the new situation from the obscure into the 
dear and luminous. When old and new jump together, like sparks 
when the poles are adjusted, there is intuition. This latter is 
thus neither an act of pure intellect in apprehending rational 
truth nor a Crocean grasp by spirit of its own images and states. 

Because interest is the dynamic force in selection and 
assemblage of materials, products of mind are marked by indi¬ 
viduality, just as products of mechanism are marked by uni¬ 
formity. No amount of technical skill and craftsmanship can take 
the place of vital interest; “inspiration” without it is fleeting and 
futile. A trivial and badly ordered mind accomplishes things 
like unto itself in art as well as elsewhere, for it lacks the push 
and centralizing energy of interest. Works of art are measured 
by display of virtuosity when criteria are carried over from the 
field of technical invention. Judgment of them on the basis of 
sheer inspiration overlooks the long and steady work done by an 
Interest always at work below the surface. The perceiver, as much 
as the creator, needs a rich and developed background which, 
whether it be painting in the field of poetry, or music, cannot be 
achieved except by consistent nurture of interest. 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


267 


IN what precedes, I have said nothing about imagination. 
“Imagination 17 shares with “beauty 77 the doubtful honor of being 
the chief theme in esthetic writings of enthusiastic ignorance. 
More perhaps than any other phase of the human contribution, 
it has been treated as a special and self-contained faculty, differ¬ 
ing from others in possession of mysterious potencies. Yet if we 
judge its nature from the creation of works of art, it designates 
a quality that animates and pervades all processes of making and 
observation. It is a way of seeing and feeling things as they com¬ 
pose an integral whole. It is the large and generous blending of 
interests at the point where the mind comes in contact with the 
world. When old and familiar things are made new in experience, 
there is imagination. When the new is created, the far and strange 
become the most natural inevitable things in the world. There is 
always some measure of adventure in the meeting of mind and 
universe, and this adventure is, in its measure, imagination. 

Coleridge used the term “esemplastic” to characterize the 
work of imagination in art. If I understand his use of the term, 
he meant by it to call attention to the welding together of all 
dements, no matter how diverse in ordinary experience, into 
a new and completely unified experience. “The poet , 77 he said, 
“diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that (as it were) fuses each 
to each the faculties of the soul with the subordination of each 
according to relative dignity and worth, by that synthetic and 
magical power to which I would exclusively appropriate the name 
of imagination . 77 Coleridge used the vocabulary of his philosophic 
generation. He speaks of faculties that are fused and of imagi¬ 
nation as if it were another power acting to draw them together. 

But one may pass over his verbal mode, and find in what 
he says an intimation not that imagination is the power that does 
certain things, but that an imaginative experience is what hap¬ 
pens when varied materials of sense quality, emotion, and mean¬ 
ing come together in a union that marks a new birth in the world. 
I do not profess to an exact understanding of what Coleridge 
meant by his distinction between imagination and fancy. But 
there can be no doubt of the difference between the kind of 
experience just indicated and that in which a person deliberately 
gives familiar experience a strange guise by clothing it in unusual 
garb, as of a supernatural apparition. In such cases, mind and 



268 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


material do not squarely meet and interpenetrate. Mind stays 
aloof for the most part and toys with material rather than boldly 
grasping it. The material is too slight to call forth the full energy 
of the dispositions in which values and meanings are embodied; 
it does not offer enough resistance, and so mind plays with it 
capriciously. At the best, the fanciful is confined to literature 
wherein the imaginative too easily becomes the imaginary. One 
has only to think of painting—to say nothing of architecture—to 
see how remote it is from essential art. Possibilities are embodied 
in works of art that are not elsewhere actualized; this embodiment 
is the best evidence that can be found of the true nature of 
imagination. 

There is a conflict artists themselves undergo that is 
instructive as to the nature of imaginative experience. The con¬ 
flict has been set forth in many ways. One way of stating it 
concerns the opposition between inner and outer vision. There 
is a stage in which the inner vision seems much richer and 
finer than any outer manifestation. It has a vast and enticing 
aura of implications that are lacking in the object of external 
vision. It seems to grasp much more than the latter conveys. 
Then there comes a reaction; the matter of the inner vision seems 
wraith-like compared with the solidity and energy of the presented 
scene. The object is felt to say something succinctly and forcibly 
that the inner vision reports vaguely, in diffuse feeling rather 
than organically. The artist is driven to submit himself in humility 
to the discipline of the objective vision. But the inner vision 
is not cast out. It remains as the organ by which outer vision is 
controlled, and it takes on structure as the latter is absorbed 
within it. The interaction of the two modes of vision is imagina¬ 
tion; as imagination takes form the work of art is born. It is 
the same with the philosophic thinker. There are moments when 
he feels that his ideas and ideals are finer than anything in exist¬ 
ence. But he finds himself obliged to go back to objects if his 
speculations are to have body, weight, and perspective. Yet in 
surrendering himself to objective material he does not surrender 
his vision; the object just as an object is not his concern. It is 
placed in the context of ideas and, as it is thus placed, the latter 
acquire solidity and partake of the nature of the object 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


269 


Trains of what by courtesy are called ideas become me¬ 
chanical. They are easy to follow, too easy. Observation as well 
as overt action is subject to inertia and moves in the line of 
least resistance. A public is formed that is inured to certain ways 
of seeing and thinking. It likes to be reminded of what is familiar. 
Unexpected turns then arouse irritation instead of adding 
poignancy to experience. Words are particularly subject to this 
tendency towards automatism. If their almost mechanical se¬ 
quence is not too prosaic, a writer gets the reputation of being 
clear merely because the meanings he expresses are so familiar 
as not to demand thought by the reader. The academic and eclectic 
in any art is the outcome. The peculiar quality of the imaginative 
is best understood when placed in opposition to the narrowing 
effect of habituation. Time is the test that discriminates the 
imaginative from the imaginary. The latter passes because it is 
arbitrary. The imaginative endures because, while at first strange 
with respect to us, it is enduringly familiar with respect to the 
nature of things. 

The history of science and philosophy as well as of the fine 
arts is a record of the fact that the imaginative product receives 
at first the condemnation of the public, and in proportion to its 
range and depth. It is not merely in religion that the prophet is 
at first stoned (metaphorically at least) while later generations 
build the commemorative monument With respect to painting, 
Constable stated, with almost undue moderation, the universal 
fact when he said: “In art there are two modes by which men 
aim at distinction. In the one by a careful application to what 
others have accomplished, the artist imitates their works or 
selects and combines their various beauties; in the other, he seeks 
excellence at its primitive source-nature. In the first, he forms a 
style upon the study of pictures, and produces either imitative or 
eclectic art; in the second, by a close observation of nature, he 
discovers qualities existing in her which have never been por¬ 
trayed before, and thus forms a style which is original. The 
results of the one mode, as they repeat that with which the eye 
is already familiar, are soon recognized and estimated, while the 
advance of the artist in a new path must necessarily be slow, for few 
are able to judge of that which deviates from the usual course, 



270 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


or are qualified to judge original studies.” * Here is the contrast 
between the inertia of habit and the imaginative; that is the 
mind that seeks and welcomes what is new in perception but is 
enduring in nature’s possibilities. “Revelation” in art is the quick¬ 
ened expansion of experience. Philosophy is said to begin in 
wonder and end in understanding. Art departs from what has been 
understood and ends in wonder. In this end, the human contribu¬ 
tion in art is also the quickened work of nature in man. 

Any psychology that isolates the human being from the 
environment also shuts him off, save for external contacts, from 
his fellows. But an individual’s desires take shape under the 
influence of the human environment. The materials of his thought 
and belief come to him from others with whom he lives. He would 
be poorer than a beast of the fields were it not for traditions that 
become a part of his mind, and for institutions that penetrate 
below his outward actions into his purposes and satisfactions. 
Expression of experience is public and communicating because the 
experiences expressed are what they are because of experiences 
of the living and the dead that have shaped them. It is not neces¬ 
sary that communication should be part of the deliberate intent 
of an artist, although he can n&ver escape the thought of a poten¬ 
tial audience. But its function and consequence are to effect 
communication, and this not by external accident but from the 
nature he shares with others. 

Expression strikes below the barriers that separate human 
beings from one another. Since art is the most universal form of 
language, since it is constituted, even apart from literature, by the 
common qualities of the public world, it is the most universal 
and freest form of communication. Every intense experience of 
friendship and affection completes itself artistically. The sense 
of communion generated by a work of art may take on a 
definitely religious quality. The union of men with one another 
is the source of the rites that from the time of archaic man to 
the present have commemorated the crises of birth, death, and 

*Jt may be that Constable is here using the word “nature” in a 
somewhat limited sense, corresponding to his interest as a landscape painter. 
But the contrast between first-hand experience and the second-hand and 
imitative remains when “nature” is broadened to include all the phases, 
aspects, and structures of existence. 



THE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION 


271 


marriage. Art is the extension of the power of rites and cere¬ 
monies to unite men, through a shared celebration, to all inci¬ 
dents and scenes of life. This office is the reward and seal of 
art. That art weds man and nature is a familiar fact. Art also 
renders men aware of their union with one another in origin 
and destiny. 



CHAPTER XII 


THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


E STHETIC experience is imaginative. This fact, in connection 
with a false idea of the nature of imagination, has obscured 
the larger fact that all conscious experience has of necessity some 
degree of imaginative quality. For while the roots of every experi¬ 
ence are found in the interaction of a live creature with its 
environment, that experience becomes conscious, a matter of 
perception, only when meanings enter it that are derived from 
prior experiences. Imagination is the only gateway through which 
these meanings can find their way into a present interaction; or 
rather, as we have just seen, the conscious adjustment of the 
new and the old is imagination. Interaction of a living being with 
an environment is found in vegetative and animal life. But the 
experience enacted is human and conscious only as that y/hich 
is given here and now is extended by meanings and values drawn 
from what is absent in fact and present only imaginatively.* 

There is always a gap between the here and now of direct 
interaction and the past interactions whose funded result consti¬ 
tutes the meanings with which we grasp and understand what is 
now occurring. Because of this gap, all conscious perception 
involves a risk; it is a venture into the unknown, for as it assimi¬ 
lates the present to the past it also brings about some reconstruc¬ 
tion of that past. When past and present fit exactly into one 
another, when there is only recurrence, complete uniformity, the 
resulting experience is routine and mechanical; it does not come 
to consciousness in perception. The inertia of habit overrides 
adaptation of the meaning of the here and now with that of 
experiences, without which there is no consciousness, the imagi¬ 
native phase of experience. 

♦“Mind denotes a whole system of meanings as they are embodied 
in the workings of organic life....Mind is a constant luminosity; conscious¬ 
ness is intermittent, a series of flashes of different intensities.”—“Experience 
and Nature,” p. 303. 


272 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


273 


Mind, that is the body of organized meanings by means 
of which events of the present have significance for us, does not 
always enter into the activities and undergoings that are going 
on here and now. Sometimes it is baffled and arrested. Then the 
stream of meanings aroused into activity by the present contact 
remain aloof. Then it forms the matter of reverie, of dream; 
ideas are floating, not anchored to any existence as its property, 
its possession of meanings. Emotions that are equally loose and 
floating cling to these ideas. The pleasure they afford is the 
reason why they are entertained and are allowed to occupy the 
scene; they are attached to existence only in a way that, as long as 
sanity abides, is felt to be only fanciful and unreal. 

In every work of art, however, these meanings are actually 
embodied in a material which thereby becomes the medium for 
their expression. This fact constitutes the peculiarity of all experi¬ 
ence that is definitely esthetic. Its imaginative quality dominates, 
because meanings and values that are wider and deeper than the 
particular here and now in which they are anchored are realized 
by way of expressions although not by way of an object that is 
physically efficacious in relation to other objects. Not even a useful 
object is produced except by the intervention of imagination. Some 
existent material was perceived in the light of relations and pos¬ 
sibilities not hitherto realized when the steam engine was invented. 
But when the imagined possibilities were embodied in a new 
assemblage of natural materials, the steam engine took its place 
in nature as an object that has the same physical effects as those 
belonging to any other physical object. Steam did the physical 
work and produced the consequences that attend any expanding 
gas under definite physical conditions. The sole difference is that 
the conditions under which it operates have been arranged by 
human contrivance. 

The work of art, however, unlike the machine, is not only 
the outcome of imagination, but operates imaginatively rather 
than in the realm of physical existences. What it does is to con¬ 
centrate and enlarge an immediate experience. The formed matter 
of esthetic experience directly expresses , in other words, the mean¬ 
ings that are imaginatively evoked; it does not, like the material 
brought into new relations in a machine, merely provide means 
by which purposes over and beyond the existence of the object 



274 


ART A$ EXPERIENCE 


may be executed. And yet the meanings imaginatively summoned, 
assembled, and integrated are embodied in material existence that 
here and now interacts with the self. The work of art is thus a 
challenge to the performance of a like act of evocation and 
organization, through imagination, on the part of the one who 
experiences it. It is not just a stimulus to and means of an overt 
course of action. 

This fact constitutes the uniqueness of esthetic experience, 
and this uniqueness is in turn a challenge to thought. It is par¬ 
ticularly a challenge to that systematic thought called philosophy. 
For esthetic experience is experience in its integrity. Had not the 
term “pure” been so often abused in philosophic literature, had 
it not been so often employed to suggest that there is something 
alloyed, impure, in the very nature of experience and to denote 
something beyond experience, we might say that esthetic experi¬ 
ence is pure experience. For it is experience freed from the forces 
that impede and confuse its development as experience; freed, 
that is, from factors that subordinate an experience as it is di¬ 
rectly had to something beyond itself. To esthetic experience, 
then, the philosopher must go to understand what experience is. 

For this reason, while the theory of esthetics put forth by 
a philosopher is incidentally a test of the capacity of its author 
to have the experience that is the subject-matter of his analysis, 
it is also much more than that. It is a test of the capacity of the 
system he puts forth to grasp the nature of experience itself. 
There is no test that so surely reveals the one-sidedness of a 
philosophy as its treatment of art and esthetic experience. Imagi¬ 
native vision is the power that unifies all the constituents of the 
matter of a work of art, making a whole out of them in all their 
variety. Yet all the elements of our being that are displayed in 
special emphases and partial realizations in other experiences are 
merged in esthetic experience. And they are so completely merged 
in the immediate wholeness of the experience that each is sub¬ 
merged:—it does not present itself in consciousness as a distinct 
element. 

Yet philosophies of esthetics have often set out from one 
factor that plays a part in the constitution of experience, and 
have attempted to interpret or “explain” the esthetic experience 
by a single element; in terms of sense, emotion, reason, of ac- 



275 


THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 

tivity; imagination itself is viewed not as that which holds all 
other elements in solution but as a special faculty. The philos¬ 
ophies of esthetics are many and diverse. It is impossible to give 
even a resume of them in a chapter. But criticism has a clew that, if 
it is followed, furnishes a sure guide through the labyrinth. We 
can ask what element, in the formation of experience, each system 
has taken as central and characteristic. If we start from this 
point, we find that theories fall of themselves into certain types, 
and that the particular strand of experience that is offered reveals, 
when it is placed in contrast with esthetic experience itself, the 
weakness of the theory. For it is shown that the system in ques¬ 
tion has superimposed some preconceived idea upon experience 
instead of encouraging or even allowing esthetic experience to 
tell its own tale. 


SINCE experience is rendered conscious by means of that 
fusion of old meanings and new situations that transfigures both 
(a transformation that defines imagination), the theory that art 
is a form of make-believe suggests itself as the natural one with 
which to begin. The theory grows out of, and depends upon, 
contrast between the work of art as an experience and experience 
of the “real.” Now there is no doubt that because of the domina¬ 
tion of esthetic experience by imaginative quality, it exists in a 
medium of light that never was on land or sea. Even the most 
“realistic” work, if it is one of art, is not an imitative reproduc¬ 
tion of the things that are so familiar, so regular, and so importu¬ 
nate that we call them real. In departure from theories of art 
that define it as “imitative,” and that conceive the pleasure that 
attends it as one of sheer recognition, the make-believe theory 
has laid hold of a genuine strand of the esthetic. 

Moreover, I do not think it can be denied that an element 
of reverie, of approach to a state of dream, enters into the cre¬ 
ation of a work of art, nor that the experience of the work when 
it is intense often throws one into a similar state. Indeed, it is 
safe to say that “creative” conceptions in philosophy and science 
come only to persons who are relaxed to the point of reverie. The 
subconscious fund of meanings stored in our attitudes have no 
chance of release when we are practically or intellectually 



m 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


strained. For much the greater part of this store is then restrained, 
because the demands of a particular problem and particular pur¬ 
pose inhibit all except the elements directly relevant. Images 
and ideas come to us not by set purpose but in flashes, and flashes 
are intense and illuminating, they set us on fire, only when we 
are free from special preoccupations. 

The error of the make-believe or illusion theory of art 
does not, then, proceed from the fact that esthetic experience 
lacks the elements upon which the theory builds. Its falsity pro¬ 
ceeds from the fact that in isolating one constituent, it denies 
explicitly or implicitly other elements equally essential. No matter 
how imaginative the material for a work of art, it issues from the 
state of reverie to become the matter of a work of art only when 
it is ordered and organized, and this effect is produced only when 
purpose controls selection and development of material. 

The characteristic of dream and reverie is absence of con¬ 
trol by purpose. Images and ideas succeed one another according 
to their own sweet will, and the sweetness of the succession to 
feeling is the only control that is exercised. In philosophical termi¬ 
nology, the material is subjective. An esthetic product results 
only when ideas cease to float and are embodied in an object, 
and the one who experiences the work of art loses himself in 
irrelevant reverie unless his images and emotions are also tied 
to the object, and are tied to it in the sense of being fused with 
the matter of the object. It is not enough that they should be 
occasioned by the object: in order to be an experience of the 
object they must be saturated with its qualities. Saturation means 
an immersion so complete that the qualities of the object and the 
emotions it arouses have no separate existence. Works of art often 
start an experience going that is enjoyable in itself, and this 
experience is sometimes worth having, not merely an indulgence 
in irrelevant sentimentality. But such an experience is not an 
enjoyed perception of the object merely because it is provoked 
by it. 

The significance of purpose as a controlling factor in both 
production and appreciation is often missed because purpose is 
identified with pious wish and what is sometimes called a motive. 
A purpose exists only in terms of subject matter. The experience 
that gave birth to a work like the “Joie de Vivre” of Matisse is 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


277 


highly imaginative; no such scene ever occurred. It is an example 
as favorable to the dreamlike theory of art as can be found. But 
the imaginative material did not and could not remain dreamlike, 
no matter what its origin. To become the matter of a work, it 
had to be conceived in terms of color as a medium of expression; 
the floating image and feeling of a dance had to be translated into 
rhythms of space, line, and distributions of light and colors. The 
object , the expressed material, is not merely the accomplished 
purpose, but it is as object the purpose from the very beginning. 
Even if we were to suppose that the image first presented ilself 
in an actual dream, it would still be true that its material had to 
be organized in terms of objective materials and operations that 
moved consistently and without a break to consummation in the 
picture as a public object in a common world. 

At the same time, purpose implicates in the most organic 
way an individual self. It is in the purposes he entertains and acts 
upon that an individual most completely exhibits and realizes his 
intimate selfhood. Control of material by a self Is control by more 
than just “mind”; it is control by the personality that has mind 
incorporate within it. All interest is an identification of a self with 
some material aspect of the objective world, of the nature that 
includes man. Purpose is this identification in action. Its operation 
in and through objective conditions is a test of its genuineness; 
the capacity of the purpose to overcome and utilize resistance, to 
administer materials, is a disclosure of the structure and quality 
of the purpose. For, as I have already said, the object finally 
created is the purpose both as conscious objective and as accom¬ 
plished actuality. The thoroughgoing integration of what philos¬ 
ophy discriminates as “subject” and “object” (in more direct 
language, organism and environment) is the characteristic of 
every work of art. The completeness of the integration is the 
measure of its esthetic status. For defect in a work is always 
traceable ultimately to an excess on one side or the other, injuring 
the integration of matter and form. Detailed criticism of the 
make-believe theory is unnecessary because it is based upon viola¬ 
tion of the integrity of the work of art. It expressly denies or 
virtually ignores that identification with objective material and 
constructive operation that is the very essence of art. 

The theory that art is play is akin to the dream theory 



278 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


of art. But it goes one step nearer the actuality of esthetic ex¬ 
perience by recognizing the necessity of action, of doing some¬ 
thing. Children are often said* to make-believe when they play. 
But children at play are at least engaged in actions that give their 
imagery an outward manifestation; in their play, idea and act 
are completely fused. The elements of strength and of weakness 
in the theory may be viewed by noting an order of progression 
that marks forms of play. A kitten plays with a spool or ball. 
The play is not wholly random because it is controlled by the 
structural organization of the animal, though not, presumably, 
by a conscious purpose, for the kitten rehearses the kind of 
actions the cat employs in catching its prey. But the play of the 
kitten, while it has a certain order as an activity, in consonance 
with the structural needs of the organism, does not modify the 
object played with except by a change of its spatial position, a 
more or less accidental matter. The spool, the object, is the stimu¬ 
lus and occasion, the excuse as it were, for an enjoyable free 
exercise of activities, but it is not, save in an external way, their 
matter. 

The first manifestations of play by a child do not differ 
much from those of a kitten. But as experience matures, activities 
are more and more regulated by an end to be attained; purpose 
becomes a thread that runs through a succession of acts; it con¬ 
verts them into a true series, a course of activity having a definite 
inception and steady movement toward a goal. As the need for 
order is recognized, play becomes a game; it has “rules.” There 
is also a gradual transition, such that play involves not only an 
ordering of activities toward an end but also an ordering of 
materials. In playing with blocks the child builds a house or a 
tower. He becomes conscious of the meaning of his impulsions 
and acts by means of the difference made by them in objective ma¬ 
terials, Past experiences more and more give meaning to what is 
done. The tower or fort that is to be constructed not only regulates 
the selection and arrangement of acts performed but is expressive 
of values of experience. Play as an event is still immediate. But 
its content consists of a mediation of present materials by ideas 
drawn from past experience. 

This transition effects a transformation of play into work, 
provided work is not identified with toil or labor. For any activity 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


279 


becomes work when it is directed by accomplishment of a definite 
material result, and it is labor only as the activities are onerous, 
undergone as mere means by which to secure a result. The product 
of artistic activity is jsignificantly called the work of art. The 
truth in the play theory of art is its emphasis upon the uncon¬ 
strained character of esthetic experience, not in its intimation of an 
objectively unregulated quality in activity. Its falsity lies in its 
failure to recognize that esthetic experience involves a definite re¬ 
construction of objective materials; a reconstruction that marks 
the arts of dance and song as well as the shaping arts. The dance, 
for example, involves the use of the body and its movements in 
a way that transforms their “natural” state. The artist is con¬ 
cerned with exercise of activities having a definitely objective 
reference; an effect upon material so as to convert it into a 
medium of expression. Play remains as an attitude of freedom 
from subordination to an end imposed by external necessity, as 
opposed, that is, to labor; but it is transformed into work in 
that activity is subordinated to production of an objective result. 
No one has ever watched a child intent in his play without being 
made aware of the complete merging of playfulness with serious¬ 
ness. 

The philosophical implications of the play theory are found 
in its opposition of freedom and necessity, of spontaneity and 
order. This opposition goes back to the same dualism between 
subject and object that infects the make-believe theory. Its under¬ 
lying note is the idea that esthetic experience is a release and 
escape from the pressure of “reality.” There is an assumption 
that freedom can be found only when personal activity is liber¬ 
ated from control by objective factors. The very existence of a 
work of art is evidence that there is no such opposition between 
the spontaneity of the self and objective order and law. In art, 
the playful attitude becomes interest in the transformation of 
material to serve the purpose of a developing experience. Desire 
and need can be fulfilled only through objective material, and 
therefore playfulness is also interest in an object. 

One form of the theory that art is play attributes play 
to the existence of a surplus of energy in the organism demanding 
outlet. But the idea passes over a question that needs to be 
answered. How is excess of energy measured? With respect to 



280 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


what is there a surplus? The play theory assumes that energy 
is in excess with respect to activities that are necessary because 
of demands of the environment that must be met practically. But 
children are not conscious of any opposition between play and 
necessary work. The idea of the contrast is a product of the 
adult life in which some activities are recreative and amusing 
because of their contrast with work that is infected with laborious 
care. The spontaneity of art is not one of opposition to anything, 
but marks complete absorption in an orderly development. This 
absorption is characteristic of esthetic experience; but it is an 
ideal for all experience, and the ideal is realized in the activity 
of the scientific inquirer and the professional man when the 
desires and urgencies of the self are completely engaged in what 
is objectively done. 

The contrast between free and externally enforced activity 
is an empirical fact. But it is largely produced by social conditions 
and it is something to be eliminated as far as possible, not some¬ 
thing to be erected into a differentia by which to define art. There 
is a place for farce and diversion in experience; “a little nonsense 
now and then is relished by the best of men.” Works of art outside 
of comedy are often diverting. But these facts are no reason for 
defining art in terms of diversion. This conception has its roots 
in the notion that there is such an inherent and deep-seated 
antagonism between the individual and the world (by means of 
which an individual lives and develops) that freedom can be 
attained only through escape. 

Now there is enough conflict between the needs and desires 
of the self and the conditions of the world to give some point to 
the escape theory. Spenser said of poetry that “it is ihe world's 
sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil.” The issue does not 
concern this trait, true of all the arts, but has to do with the 
way in which art performs liberation and release. The matter at 
stake is whether release comes by way of anodyne or by transfer 
to a radically different realm of things, or whether it is accom¬ 
plished by manifesting what actual existence actually becomes 
when its possibilities are fully expressed. The fact that art is 
production and that production occurs only through an objective 
material that has to be managed and ordered in accord with its 
own possibilities seem to be conclusive in the latter sense. As 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 281 

Goethe said: “Art is formative long before it is beautiful. For 
man has within him a formative nature that displays itself in 
action as soon as existence is secure.... When formative activity 
operates on what lies around it from single, individual, independ¬ 
ent feeling, careless and ignorant of all that is alien to it, then, 
whether born of rude savagery or cultivated sensibility, it is whole 
and living.” The activity that is free from the standpoint of the 
self is ordered and disciplined from the side of objective material 
undergoing transformation. 

As far as the delight found in contrast is concerned, it is 
as true that we go for satisfaction from works of art to natural 
things as it is that we turn from the latter to art. At times we 
turn gladly from fine art to industry, science, politics, and do¬ 
mestic life. As Browning said: 

“And that's your Venus—whence we turn 
To yonder girl that fords the burn ” 

Soldiers get too much of fighting; philosophers of philosophizing, 
and the poet goes gladly to the meal he shares with his fellows. 
Imaginative experience exemplifies more fully than any other kind 
of experience what experience itself is in its very movement and 
structure. But we also want the tang of overt conflict and the 
impact of harsh conditions. Moreover, without the latter art has 
no material; and this fact is more important for esthetic theory 
than is any contrast supposed to exist between play and work, 
spontaneity and necessity, freedom and law. For art is the fusion 
in one experience of the pressure upon the self of necessary con¬ 
ditions and the spontaneity and novelty of individuality.* 

Individuality itself is originally a potentiality and is 
realized only in interaction with surrounding conditions. In this 

♦The most explicit philosophic statement of what is implied in the 
play theory is that of Schiller in his “Letters on the Esthetic Education of 
Man.” Kant had limited freedom to moral action controlled by the rational 
(supra-empirical) conception of Duty. Schiller put forward the idea that 
play and art occupy an intermediate transitional place between the realms 
of necessary phenomena and transcendent freedom, educating man to recog¬ 
nition and to assumption of the responsibilities of the latter. His views repre¬ 
sent a valiant attempt on the part of an artist to escape the rigid dualism 
of the Kantian philosophy, while remaining within its frame. 



282 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


process of intercourse, native capacities, which contain an element 
of uniqueness, are transformed and become a self. Moreover, 
through resistances encountered, the nature of the self is dis¬ 
covered. The self is both formed and brought to consciousness 
through interaction with environment. The individuality of the 
artist is no exception. If his activities remained mere play and 
merely spontaneous, if free activities were not brought against 
the resistance offered by actual conditions, no work of art would 
ever be produced. From the first manifestation by a child of an 
impulse to draw up to the creations of a Rembrandt, the self is 
created in the creation of objects, a creation that demands active 
adaptation to external materials, including a modification of the 
self so as to utilize and thereby overcome external necessities by 
incorporating them in an individual vision and expression. 

From the philosophic point of view, I see no way to re¬ 
solve the continual strife in art theories and in criticism between 
the classic and the romantic save to see that they represent tend¬ 
encies that mark every authentic work of art. What is called 
‘‘classic” stands for objective order and relations embodied in 
a work; what is called “romantic” stands for the freshness and 
spontaneity that come from individuality. At different periods 
and by different artists, one or the other tendency is carried to 
an extreme. If there is a definite overbalance on one side or the 
other the work fails; the classic becomes dead, monotonous, and 
artificial; the romantic, fantastic and eccentric. But the genuinely 
romantic becomes in time established as a recognized constituent 
in experience, so that there is force in the saying that after all 
the classic means nothing more than that a work of art has won 
an established recognition. 

Desire for the strange and unusual, the remote in space 
and time, marks romantic art. Yet escape from the familiar en¬ 
vironment to a foreign one is often a means of enlarging subse¬ 
quent experience, because the excursions of art create new sensi¬ 
tivities that in time absorb what was alien and naturalize it within 
direct experience. Delacroix as a painter who was unduly romantic 
was at least a precursor of the artists of two generations later 
who made Arabian scenes a part of the common material of 
painting, and who, because their form is adapted to subject- 
matter, more justly than was that of Delacroix, do not arouse 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


283 


a sense of anything so remote as to seem outside the natural scope 
of experience. Sir Walter Scott is classed as a romanticist in 
literature. Yet even in his own day, William Hazlitt, who savagely 
denounced Scott’s reactionary political opinions, said of his novels 
that “by going a century or so back and laying the scene in a 
remote and uncultivated district, all becomes new and startling 
in the present advanced period .” The italicized words with an¬ 
other phrase, “all is fresh as from the hand of nature,” indicate 
the possibility of incorporation of the romantically strange into 
the meaning of the present environment. Indeed, since all esthetic 
experience is imaginative, the pitch of intensity to which the 
imaginative may be raised without becoming outre and fantastic 
is determined only by the doing, not by the d priori rules of 
pseudo-classicism. Charles Lamb had, as Hazlitt said, “distaste to 
new faces, to new books, to new buildings, to new customs” and 
was “tenacious of the obscure and remote.” Lamb himself said: 
“I cannot make these present times real to me.” Yet Pater in 
quoting these words said that Lamb felt the poetry of things old 
indeed but, “surviving as an actual part of the life of the present 
and as something quite different from the poetry of things gone 
from us and antique.” 


THE two theories criticized (as well as that of self-expression 
criticized in the chapter on The Act of Expression) are discussed 
because they typify philosophies that isolate the individual, the 
“subject”; one of them selecting material that is private, like that 
of a dream, the other activities that are exclusively individual. 
These theories are comparatively modern; they correspond to the 
overemphasis of the individual and the subjective in modern phi¬ 
losophy. The theory of art that has had by far the longest his¬ 
torical vogue and that is still so entrenched that many critics 
regard individualism in art as an heretical innovation, went to 
the opposite extreme. It regarded the individual as a mere chan¬ 
nel, the more transparent the better, through which objective 
material is conveyed. This older theory conceived of art as repre¬ 
sentation, as imitation. Adherents of this theory appeal to Aristotle 
as the great authority. Yet, as every student of that philosopher 
knows, Aristotle meant something radically different from imita- 



284 ART AS EXPERIENCE 

tion of particular incidents and scenes—from “realistic’' 
representation in its present sense. 

For to Aristotle the universal was more real, metaphysi¬ 
cally, than the particular. The gist of his theory is at least sug¬ 
gested by the reason he gives for regarding poetry as more 
philosophical than history. “It is not the business of the poet to 
tell what has happened but the kind of thing that might happen— 
what is possible whether necessary or probable.”... For poetry 
tells us, rather, the universal, history the particulars. 

Since no one can deny that art deals with the possible, Aris¬ 
totle’s interpretation of it as dealing with the necessary or the 
probable needs to be stated in terms of his system. For according 
to him, things are necessary or probable in kinds or species not 
simply as particulars. By their own nature some kinds are neces¬ 
sary and eternal, while other kinds are only probable. The former 
kinds are always so, the latter kinds are so usually, as a rule, 
generally. Both kinds are universal, since they are made what 
they are by an inherent metaphysical essence. Thus Aristotle 
completes the passage just quoted by saying “the universal is 
the kind of thing which a person of certain character would neces¬ 
sarily or probably do or say. And this is what poetry aims at, 
though it gives proper names to the persons. The particular, for 
example, is what Alcibiades did or underwent.” 

Now the term here translated “character” is likely to give 
the modern reader a totally wrong impression. He would agree 
that the deeds and sayings attributed to a character in fiction, 
drama, or poetry should be such as flow necessarily or with great 
probability from that individual’s character. But he thinks of 
character as intimately individual, while “character” in the pas¬ 
sage signifies a universal nature or essence. To Aristotle the 
esthetic significance of the portrayal of Macbeth, Pendennis, or 
Felix Holt consists in fidelity to the nature found in a class or 
species. To the modern reader, it signifies fidelity to the individual 
whose career is exhibited; the things done, underwent, and said 
belong to him in his unique individuality. The difference is 
radical. 

The influence of Aristotle upon subsequent ideas of art 
may be gathered by a brief quotation from tie lectures of Sir 
Joshua Reynolds. He said of painting that its office is “exhibition 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 285 

of the general forms of things/’ for “in each class of objects 
there is one common idea and central form, which is the abstract 
of the various individual forms belonging to the class.” This gen¬ 
eral form, antecedently existent in nature, which indeed is nature 
when nature is true to itself, is reproduced or “imitated” in irt. 
“The idea of beauty in each species of things is invariable.” 

The weakness, in a relative sense, of the paintings of Sir 
Joshua Reynolds is doubtless to be attributed to defects in his 
own artistic capacity rather than to acceptance of the theory he 
expounds. Many a person in both plastic and literary arts held 
the same theory and rose superior to it. And up to a certain 
point, the theory is a just reflection of the actual state of works 
of art for a long period, because of their search for the typical 
and their avoidance of anything that might be considered acci¬ 
dental and contingent. Its prevalence in the eighteenth century 
reflects not only canons followed in the art of that century (out¬ 
side of painting in France through the earlier part of the cen¬ 
tury), but also the general condemnation of the baroque and 
the Gothic.* 

But the question raised is a general one. It cannot be 
disposed of merely by pointing out that modern art, in all its 
modes, has tended to search for and express the distinctively 
individual traits of objects and scenes, any more than it can be 
settled by an ipse dixit that these exhibitions of the modern spirit 
are willful departures from true art, to be explained by desire 
for mere novelty and attendant notoriety. For, as we have already 
seen, the more a work of art embodies what belongs to experiences 
common to many individuals, the more expressive it is. Indeed, 
failure to take account of the control exercised by objective 
subject-matter is the just ground for the criticism directed against 
the subjectivist theories lately under discussion. The problem for 
philosophic reflection concerns, then, not the presence or absence 
of such objective material but its nature and the way in which 
it operates in the developing movement of an esthetic ex¬ 
perience. 

The question of the nature of the objective material that 

♦It is not without interest to note that the good Bishop Berkeley, 
when he wishes to condemn anything in the way of opinion and action, as 
well as in art, as extravagant and fantastic speaks of it as “Gothic.” 



286 ART AS EXPERIENCE 

enters a work of art and the way in which it operates cannot 
be separated. In a true sense, the way in which material of other 
experiences enters into esthetic experience is its nature for art. 
But it may be pointed out that the terms general and common 
are equivocal. The meaning they possess for Aristotle and for 
Sir Joshua are not, for example, the meaning that most naturally 
comes to mind with a contemporary reader. For the former, they 
refer to a species or kind of objects, and, moreover, a kind already 
in existence by the very constitution of nature. For a reader inno¬ 
cent of the underlying metaphysics, they have a simpler, more 
direct and more experimental significance. The “common” is that 
which is found in the experience of a number of persons; anything 
in which a number of persons participate is by that very fact 
common. The more deep-seated it is in the doings and undergoing 
that form experience, the more general or common it is. We live 
in the same world; that aspect of nature is common to all. There 
are impulsions and needs that are common to humanity. The 
“universal” is not something metaphysically anterior to all ex¬ 
perience but is a way in which things function in experience as a 
bond of union among particular events and scenes. Potentially 
anything whatsoever in nature or in human associations is “com¬ 
mon”; whether or not it is actually common depends upon diverse 
conditions, especially those that affect the processes of communi¬ 
cation. 

For it is by activities that are shared and by language and 
other means of intercourse that qualities and values become com¬ 
mon to the experience of a group of mankind. Now art is the 
most effective mode of communication that exists. For this reason 
the presence of common or general factors in conscious experience 
is an effect of art. Anything in the world, no matter how indi¬ 
vidual in its own existence is potentially common, as I have said, 
because it is something that may, just because it is part of the 
environment, interact with any living being. But it becomes a 
conscious common possession, or Is shared, by means of works 
of art more than by any other means. The idea that the general 
is constituted by the existence of fixed kinds of things, has, more¬ 
over, been destroyed by the advance of science, physical and 
biological. The idea was a product of the cultural conditions, with 
respect both to the state of knowledge and social organization. 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


287 


that subordinated the individual in politics as well as in art and 
philosophy. 

The question of the way potential common material 
enters into art has been dealt with in connection with other mat¬ 
ters, especially that of the nature of the expressive object and 
the medium. A medium as distinct from raw material is always 
a mode of language and thus of expression and communication. 
Pigments, marble and bronze, sounds, are not media of them¬ 
selves. They enter into the formation of a medium only when they 
interact with the mind and skill of an individual. Sometimes in 
a painting we are conscious of the paint; 'the physical means 
obtrude; they are not so absorbed into union with what the artist 
contributes as to carry us transparently over to the texture of 
the object, drapery, human flesh, the sky or whatever it may be. 
Even great painters do not always achieve a complete union, 
Ce'zanne being a notable example. On the other hand, there are 
lesser artists in whose work we are not made aware of the ma¬ 
terial means used. But since only scant material is supplied by 
the human meanings that interact, the work is slight in expres¬ 
siveness. 

Such facts as these give convincing evidence that the 
medium of expression in art is neither objective nor subjective. 
It is the matter of a new experience in which subjective and 
objective have so cooperated that neither has any longer an exist¬ 
ence by itself. The fatal defect of the representative theory is that 
it exclusively identifies the matter of a work of art with what is 
objective. It passes by the fact that objective material becomes 
the matter of art only as it is transformed by entering into rela¬ 
tions of doing and being undergone by an individual person with 
all his characteristics of temperament, special manner of vision, 
and unique experience. Even did there exist (as there does 
not) special fixed kinds of beings to which all particulars are 
subordinate, it would still be true that they would not be the 
matter of art. They would be at best material for, and would 
become matter of a work of art only after they had been trans¬ 
figured by fusion with material that has undergone incorpora¬ 
tion with an individual living creature. Since the physical 
material used in production of a work of art is not of itself a 
medium, no rules can be laid d priori down for its proper use. 



288 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


The limits of its esthetic potentialities can be determined only 
experimentally and by what artists make out of it in practice; 
another evidence that the medium of expression is neither subjec¬ 
tive nor objective, but is an experience in which they are inte¬ 
grated in a new object. 

The philosophic basis of the representative theory is com¬ 
pelled to omit this qualitative novelty that characterizes every 
genuine work of art. 

This neglect is a logical consequence of virtual denial 
of the inherent role of individuality in the matter of a work 
of art. The theory of reality that defines the real in terms of 
fixed kinds is bound to regard all elements of novelty as acci¬ 
dental and esthetically irrelevant, even though they are practi¬ 
cally unavoidable. Moreover, philosophies that have been marked 
by bias in favor of universal natures and “characters” have 
always regarded only the eternal and unchanging as truly real. 
Yet no genuine work has ever been a repetition of anything that 
previously existed. There are indeed works that tend to be mere 
recombinations of elements selected from prior works. But they 
are academic—that is to say, mechanical—rather than esthetic. 
Not only critics but historians of art have been misled by the 
factitious prestige of the concept of the fixed and unchanging. 
They have tended to find the explanation of works of art of 
each period as mere recombinations of those predecessors, recog¬ 
nizing novelty only when a new “style” appeared, and even then 
acknowledging it only in a grudging way. The interpenetration of 
the old and new, their complete blending in a work of art, is 
another challenge issued by art to philosophic thought. It gives 
a clew to the nature of things that philosophic systems have 
rarely followed. 


THE sense of increase of understanding, of a deepened intelli¬ 
gibility on the part of objects of nature and man, resulting from 
esthetic experience, has led philosophic theorists to treat art as 
a mode of knowledge, and has induced artists, especially poets, 
to regard art as a mode of revelation of the inner nature of things 
that cannot be had in any other way. It has led to treating art 
as a mode of knowledge superior not only to that of ordinary 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


289 


life but to that of science itself. The notion that art is a form 
of knowledge (though not one superior to the scientific mode) 
is implicit in Aristotle’s statement that poetry is more philo¬ 
sophical than history. The assertion has been expressly made by 
many philosophers. A reading of these philosophers in connec¬ 
tion with one another suggests, however, that they either have 
not had an esthetic experience or have allowed preconceptions 
to determine their interpretation of it. For the alleged knowledge 
can hardly be at the same time that of fixed species, as with 
Aristotle; of Platonic Ideas, as with Schopenhauer; of the 
rational structure of the universe, as with Hegel; and of states 
of mind, as with Croce; of sensations with associated images, as 
with the sensational school; to mention a few of the outstanding 
philosophic instances. The varieties of incompatible conceptions 
put forth prove that the philosophers in question were anxious 
to carry a dialectical development of conceptions framed with¬ 
out regard to art into esthetic experience more than they were 
willing to allow this experience to speak for itself. 

Nevertheless, the sense of disclosure and of heightened 
intelligibility of the world remains to be accounted for. That 
knowledge enters deeply and intimately into the production of 
a work is proved by the works themselves. Theoretically, it fol¬ 
lows of necessity from the part played by mind, by the meanings 
funded from prior experiences that are actively incorporated in 
esthetic production and perception. There are artists who have 
been definitely influenced in their work by the science of their 
time—as Lucretius, Dante, Milton, Shelley, dnd, although not 
to advantage of their paintings, Leonardo and Diirer in the larger 
compositions of the latter. But there is a great difference between 
the transformation of knowledge that is effected in imaginative 
and emotional vision, and in expression through union with 
sense-material and knowledge. Wordsworth declared that “poetry 
is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impas¬ 
sioned expression which is in the countenance of all science.” 
Shelley said: “Poetry... is at once the center and circumference 
of all knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science and to 
which all science must be referred.” 

But these men were poets and are speaking imaginatively. 
“Breath and finer spirit” of knowledge are far from being knowl- 



2*0 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


edge in any literal sense, and Wordsworth goes on to say that 
poetry “carries sensation into the objects of science.” And Shelley 
also says, “poetry awakens and enlarges the mind by rendering 
it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of 
thought.” I cannot find in such remarks as these any intention 
to assert that esthetic experience is to be defined as a mode of 
knowledge. What is intimated to my mind, is, that in both pro¬ 
duction and enjoyed perception of works of art, knowledge is 
transformed; it becomes something more than knowledge because 
it is merged with non-intellectual elements to form an experi¬ 
ence worth while as an experience. I have from time to time 
set forth a conception of knowledge as being “instrumental.” 
Strange meanings have been imputed by critics to this conception. 
Its actual content is simple: Knowledge is instrumental to the 
enrichment of immediate experience through the control over 
action that it exercises. I would not emulate the philosophers 
I have criticized and force this interpretation into the ideas set 
forth by Wordsworth and Shelley. But an idea similar to that 
I have just stated seems to me to be the most natural translation 
of their intent. 

Tangled scenes of life are made more intelligible in esthetic 
experience: not, however, as reflection and science render things 
more intelligible by reduction to conceptual form, but by pre¬ 
senting their meanings as the matter of a clarified, coherent, and 
intensified or “impassioned” experience. The trouble I find with 
the representative and cognitive theories of the esthetic is that 
they, like the play and illusion theories, isolate one strand in 
the total experience, a strand, moreover, that is what it is be¬ 
cause of the entire pattern to which it contributes and in which it 
is absorbed. They take it to be the whole. Such theories either 
mark an arrest of esthetic experience on the part of those who 
hold them, an arrest eked out by induced cerebral reveries, or they 
are evidence of forgetfulness of the nature of the actual experi¬ 
ence in favor of enforcement of some prior philosophical con¬ 
ception to which their authors have been committed. 


THERE is a third general type of theories that combines the 
escape phase of the first type of theories considered with the 



THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY 


291 

overintellectualized conception of art characteristic of the second 
type. The historic origin of this third type, in western thought, 
goes back to Plato. He sets out from the imitation conception, but 
to him there is an element of sham and deceit in every imitation, 
and the true function of the beauty in every object, natural or 
artistic, is to lead us from sense and phenomena to something 
beyond. Plato says, in one of his more genial references,,.. “the 
rhythmic and harmonious elements of art, like a breeze blowing 
in a goodly place, may from earliest childhood lead us peacefully 
into harmony with the beauty of reasonableness; one so nurtured 
will, beyond others, welcome reason when its time comes and 
know it as his own.” Upon this view, the object of art is to educate 
us away from art to perception of purely rational essences. There 
is a ladder of successive rungs leading from sense upwards. The 
lowest stage consists in the beauty of sensible objects; a stage 
that is morally dangerous because we are tempted to remain there. 
From thence we are invited to mount to the beauty of mind, 
thence to the beauty of laws and institutions, whence we should 
ascend to the beauty of the sciences and then we may move on 
to the one intuitive knowledge of beauty absolute. Plato’s ladder 
is, moreover, a one-way ascent; there is no return from the high¬ 
est beauty to perceptual experience. 

The beauty of things that are in change—as are all things 
of experience—is to be regarded then but as a potential becoming 
of the soul toward apprehension of eternal patterns of beauty. 
Even their intuition is not final. “Recall how in that communion 
alone, through beholding beauty with the eye of mind, one will 
be able to bring forth not mere images of beauty but reality itself. 
In thereby bringing forth and nurturing true excellence, one will 
be able to become the friend of God and as divine as any mortal 
may be.” Following Plato in a time that is well designated by Gil¬ 
bert Murray a “failure of nerve,” Plotinus carried further the 
logical implications of the last clause. Proportion, symmetry, and 
harmonious adaptation of parts no more constitute the beauty 
of natural and artistic objects than does their sensuous charm. 
The beauty of these things is conferred upon them by the eter¬ 
nal essence or character that shines through them. The Creator 
of all things is the supreme artist by which is “conferred upon 
the creatures” that which causes them to be beautiful. Plotinus 



292 


ART AS EXPERIENCE 


thought it unworthy of absolute being to conceive it as personal. 
Christianity did not share this scruple, and, in its version of 
Neo-Platonism, beauty of nature and art were conceived to be 
manifestations within the limits of the perceptible world of the 
Spirit who is above nature and beyond perception. 

An echo of this philosophy is found in Carlyle, when he 
says that, in art, “the infinite is made to blend with the finite; 
to stand visible and as it were attainable there. Of this sort are 
all true works of art; in this (if we know the true work from 
the daub of artifice), we discern eternity looking through time, 
the Godlike rendered visible.” It is quite definitely stated by 
Bosanquet, a modern idealist of the German tradition, when he 
asserts that the spirit of art is faith in the “life and divinity with 
which the external world is instinct and inspired, so that the 
‘idealizations* characteristic of art are not so much products of 
an imagination that departs from reality as they are revelations 
of the life and divinity that is alone ultimately real.” 

Contemporary metaphysicians who have abandoned the 
theological tradition have seen that logically essences can stand 
alone and do not need the support that was supposed to be given 
them by residence in any mind or spirit. A contemporary phi¬ 
losopher, Santayana, writes: “The nature of essence appears in 
nothing better than in the beautiful, when this is a positive pres¬ 
ence to the spirit, and not a vague title conventionally bestowed. 
In a form felt to be beautiful an obvious complexity composes 
an obvious unity; a marked int